A Philippine warship arrived at a key port facility in Vietnam this week as part of a four-day visit to the country, a reminder of the ongoing collaboration in the maritime space between the two Southeast Asian strategic partners.
The Philippine frigate BRP Ramon Alcaraz arrived in Cam Ranh International Seaport, a new international port facility capable of receiving foreign warships which was opened in March (See: “Vietnam Unveils Port Facility For Foreign Warships in Cam Ranh Bay”). The port, located in Cam Ranh Bay, a deep-water harbor in central Vietnam along the South China Sea, has since seen visits from a string of countries, including Japan, France, and China.
Until the election of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his outreach to China (See: “The Limits of Duterte’s US-China Rebalance”), Vietnam and the Philippines had been the two most forward-leaning of the four Southeast Asian claimants in the South China Sea following Beijing’s assertiveness in the maritime space (the other two claimants are Malaysia and Brunei). In November 2015, the two countries had inked a strategic partnership under Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, and there were expectations that the momentum in bilateral ties would spill over into 2016, which is the 40th anniversary of their diplomatic ties (See: “Philippines, Vietnam to Ink Strategic Partnership by End of 2015”).
After coming to office in June, Duterte visited Vietnam on September 28 and 29 just before he visited China and as part of a string of trips to neighboring Southeast Asian states ahead of Manila’s official assumption of the ASEAN chairmanship in 2017. While both sides discussed a range of areas for cooperation, The Diplomat understands that defense and maritime security did feature in talks between Duterte and his Vietnamese counterpart, Tran Dai Quang, more so than was advertised. Publicly, Duterte at the time only said that the two countries agreed to strengthen maritime cooperation mechanisms and adopt measures to strengthen the safety and security of their fishermen, but declined to elaborate on specifics when pressed.
The visit this week, which had long been anticipated by regional watchers, was a useful reminder of ongoing cooperation in the maritime space between the two new strategic partners, and was portrayed as an attempt to further strength bilateral naval ties. During their stay in the south-central Vietnamese province of Khanh Hoa where the port facility is located, the crew members of the Philippine warship had a range of activities scheduled, including search and rescue exercises and meetings with key personnel there.