Exclusive: Philippines, Vietnam to examine joint patrols in S China Sea - sources

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Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 1:44 PM

Ties have strengthened between the two Southeast Asian countries as China'south assertiveness intensifies with a rapid buildup of man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago, to which Vietnam and the Philippines lay claim.

Defense executive from the Philippines and Vietnam will meet this week to examine possible joint exercises and navy patrols, military sources said, shoring up a new alliance between states locked in maritime rows with China.

Ties have strengthened between the two Southeast Asian countries as China'south assertiveness intensifies with a rapid buildup of man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago, to which Vietnam and the Philippines lay claim.

Both states are also on the receiving finish of a renewed charm offensive by the United States, which is holding joint military exercises in the Philippines to be attended this week by U. S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

Vietnam and the Philippines would discuss patrols and exercises, but a deal this week was unlikely, a senior military official told Reuters.

"These are initial discussions," he said. "These may get time but we'd love to move to the next level."

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media. The information was confirmed by another defense ministry source in Manila.

Naval patrols between the Philippines and United States were proposed by Manila in January. They could happen within a year, a foreign ministry official said. "The two sides are still talking about this," the official told Reuters.

The exploratory talks between Vietnam and the Philippines arrive as ships from the United States and Japan, which has its own maritime wrangles with China, have visiting ships currently docked at Subic Bay in the Philippines, which hosted Washington'south main naval base during the Vietnam War.

CHANGING DYNAMIC

The regional dynamic has shifted substantially since then, with the United States presently engaging Vietnam'south military having eased a lethal arms embargo in two thousand-fourteenth. Japan is also working closely in defense issues with Manila and Hanoi, and two of its guided-missile destroyers are currently on a scarce visit to Vietnam'south strategic base at Cam Ranh Bay.

Vietnam and the Philippines agreed on a strategic partnership in Nov to boost security relations as China expands its presence in the strategic waterway and deploys military equipment in the Spratly and Paracel islands.

Their closer ties label a bold step in a region where China'south economic influence has made some countries reluctant to get a joint stand against its maritime maneuvering.

Joint exercises would be one of the biggest steps taken by the two countries' militaries since signing a defense agreement six years ago.

The meeting between Vietnam'south vice defense minister, Nguyen Chi Vinh, and Honorio Azcueta, the Philippine undersecretary of defense, is scheduled for Thursday and comes as a Ct in The Hague nears a decision in an arbitration case lodged by Manila.

The ruling in the case, which seeks to make clear parts of a United Nations maritime law, could dent China'south claim to ninety % of the S China Sea, parts of which Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also claim.

The S China Sea will figure in the talks between the two countries, as will bilateral exchanges, information-sharing, military logistics and defense technology, the sources said.

Vinh would tour Philippine bases, including a major naval facility. Vietnam'south state media hasn't reported the visit.

Two Vietnamese frigates made harbour calls to Manila in two thousand-fourteenth and a Philippine warship may do the same in Vietnam this June. Troops from both sides have played sports together twice since two thousand fourteen on disputed islands they occupy.

On Monday, Philippine Foreign Minister Jose Rene Almendras was the first foreign dignitary to meet Vietnam'south new prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty and Nick Macfie)

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