MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The Philippines’ top diplomat said he and his Vietnamese counterpart discussed Thursday how their governments can work together to deal with territorial disputes with China, including a possible sharing of information to better guard their territories from intrusions.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh agreed in their meeting in Manila to ask the regional bloc, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to seek an early start of negotiations with China on a legally binding accord to prevent an armed conflict from breaking out in the disputed South China Sea. The territorial rifts were high in the agenda of the meeting, which also touched on increasing trade and a possible extradition pact.
Chinese diplomats and those from the 10-member ASEAN have agreed to soon hold consultations on how such a “code of conduct” in the South China Sea should be concluded. Del Rosario said ASEAN should insist negotiations should start immediately after the consultations.
“We want them to take a giant step on China,” del Rosario told reporters after meeting with the Vietnamese delegation. “We decided among ourselves that consultation probably is not enough. We need to talk about negotiations.”
Del Rosario said they also discussed China’s recent offer to jointly develop disputed areas.
He said the Philippines and Vietnam have a similar position of not accepting any joint venture such as oil and gas exploration with China if Beijing insists that it has sovereignty over the areas to be jointly developed.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said Wednesday that Beijing would put aside territorial disputes and seek joint maritime development but insist it has sovereignty over such areas.
“We must insist that the sovereignty belongs to us, but we can shelve the disputes, pursue joint development, promote mutually beneficial, friendly cooperation, and seek and widen common interests,” the state-run China Central Television quoted Xi as saying.
Many fear the long-unresolved territorial conflicts, which involve the three countries along with Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan, could spark an armed conflict and disrupt the region’s economic growth.