United Asean may stop Chinese Spratly Bullying
Headlines about the West Philippine Sea islands have lately been tense and disturbing with news of confrontations between Chinese ships and Philippine and Vietnamese naval forces. But a story that showcased unity between two conflicting nations gives hope despite the tensions in the waters surrounding the SpratlyIslands.
On Sunday, Philippine and Vietnam naval forces came together in the disputed Southwest Cay Island to confront each other in a game of football, volleyball and tug-of-war. The day-long sports and cultural event has got 40 Filipino naval officers playing games and sharing beer with their Vietnamese counterparts in what media called a solidarity event that Beijing, China will surely not ignore.
SouthwestCayIsland is part of the Spratly group of Islands and is currently being held by Vietnam, but in the 1970s was held by the Philippines. The event is more symbolic between the two countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) since both countries claim rights over the island.
The two navy groups said that the aim of the event was to ‘foster camaraderie and friendly relations between the two nations’ and it was ‘proof that disputes do not hinder development of practical and tangible co-operation.’
Philippine navy spokesman Lieutenant-Commander Gerald Fabic commented ‘We’re trying to set an example. We want to show that there can be other approaches to the disputes that can in fact ease the tensions.’
A Philippine navy official who wanted to remain anonymous added ‘We are not only bringing down walls of mistrust and suspicion with one another but building trust and confidence towards peacefully resolving our competing claims.’
Tension between Vietnam and China increased in the previous weeks after the latter set up an oil rig in waters claimed by the former. Violence has since erupted in Vietnam with Chinese citizens being evacuated and Vietnamese ships being chased by Chinese ships with water cannons. Meanwhile, a Philippine Marine vessel was blocked by Chinese ships two months ago near the waters of Ayungin Shoal.
The fellowship shown between the two nations being bullied by the stronger, more aggressive Chinese naval force shows that Asean nations can band together to decrease territorial tensions at sea.
The recently concluded state visit to the Philippines of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is another concrete step that could unite Asean against a bigger rival. During the visit more than two weeks ago, Presidents Aquino and Yudhoyono signed three agreements on the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) boundary.
Included in the agreements are border matters that President Yudhoyono is positive can ‘prove that maritime border tensions can be resolved peacefully.’ Both Indonesia and the Philippines also vowed to continue co-operation with their Asean neighbours, which includes Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Laos.
Among the Asean members, countries that claim some parts of the Spratly group and other West Philippine Sea islands include: Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia.