Last week, the Philippine and Vietnamese navies held the latest round of their staff-to-staff talks. The dialogue highlighted the continuing efforts made by both of the services to boost their collaboration in the maritime space amid wider domestic and regional developments.
As I have noted before in these pages, Vietnam and the Philippines have been attempting to strengthen their maritime collaboration as part of their broader relationship over the past few years in the face of shared challenges such as China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea. In spite of some challenges along the way, both sides have been developing a range of mechanisms to do so over the past few years, including dialogues, hotlines, and working groups.
2020 is a year that will put the focus on maritime issues within both countries’ foreign policies. Vietnam will be holding the annually rotating ASEAN chair in 2020 – which will include a series of maritime-related meetings as well including the ASEAN Navy Chiefs Meeting – while the Philippines will be hosting the Western Pacific Naval Symposium and the International Fleet Review. Amid these developments, we have seen these factor into wider discussions between the two countries being held in 2019.
Last week, the naval aspect of the Vietnam-Philippines relationship was in the headlines again with the holding of staff talks between the two navies, which provided an avenue for them to discuss existing relations and to initiate engagements including visits, exchanges, and port calls. The sixth iteration of Staff-to-Staff Talks (STST) between the Philippine Navy and the Vietnam People’s Navy (VPN) was held at VPN headquarters in Hai Phong city on November 26, and it was co-chaired by PN Chief-of-Naval Staff Rey T. Dela Cruz and VPN Deputy Chief-of-Staff Hoàng Quang Hà.
According to the official account of the interaction by PN public affairs office chief Maria Christina Roxas, during the STST, both sides discussed topics of common interest, including maritime security challenges and best practices in handling maritime incidents. They also reviewed bilateral activities between the PN and VPN and explored areas of future collaboration, including continuing exchange of education and training offers, high-level visits, port calls, the possible conduct of military training activities, and support for the various multilateral naval engagements both sides would be hosting next year.
To be sure, the STST is only one of several defense-related interactions between the Philippines and Vietnam, with the next one expected to be hosted in the Philippines in 2020. Nonetheless, as both countries gear up for next year, which will see an increased focus on the maritime domain in Vietnam and the Philippines, it will be important to watch how these developments fit into their ongoing engagements.