MANILA – The Philippines and Vietnam will continue to coordinate efforts to reach a negotiated settlement with China on overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, a senior diplomat told Kyodo News on Friday.
Officials of the two countries, who were in Manila to prepare for a meeting of the Philippine and Vietnamese foreign ministers in Manila early next year, decided to continue to work together on the South China Sea issue even though Malaysia and Brunei, two other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations with similar difficulties, begged off a planned four-way discussion set for Dec. 12.
Both Brunei and Malaysia said scheduling problems prevented their senior officials from coming to Manila this week, although some believe those two countries are more concerned about upsetting China than forging a common stance on the sea claims with Vietnam and the Philippines.
The diplomat said the Friday meeting has shown the Philippines and Vietnam are ready to discuss maritime security and cooperation and to resolve the South China Sea disputes by negotiation.
"We have a common understanding that it is really important to maintain peace and stability in the region because the seas surrounding our region interconnect the countries of Asia-Pacific and beyond," the diplomat said.
The Philippines and Vietnam are the most vocal among ASEAN countries in demanding that China forge a binding code of conduct with ASEAN to prevent clashes in disputed areas.
China and Vietnam dispute ownership of parts of the Paracel Islands, which China has occupied.
The four ASEAN claimants and Taiwan also dispute with China ownership of parts of the Spratly Islands and the Philippines disagrees with China on ownership of Scarborough Shoal, north of the Spratlys.
A statement issued by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said the Friday meeting "discussed the implementation of the Philippines-Viet Nam Action Plan 2011-2016, which covers cooperation on political, defense, security, economic, fisheries, agriculture, forestry, environment, science and technology, energy, education, cultural and tourism, social welfare and development, and maritime and ocean concerns and issues."
In addition to the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, ASEAN includes Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.