The Philippines and Vietnam were on opposite sides in the Vietnam War that ended in 1955. Filipino doctors went to South Vietnam in 1954 under Operation Brotherhood which helped Vietnamese refugees in the South’s war against the Communist North. President Ferdinand Marcos sent 2,000 combat engineers to help the South, equipped with patrol boats, weapons, and other equipment from the United States. Saigon, capital of the South, eventually fell on April 30, 1975, and a united Vietnam, with its capital in Hanoi, emerged from the long war.
That was 41 long years ago and our relations with Vietnam have since steadily improved. We reestablished formal ties between our two countries in 1976, and they proceeded to draw closer to each other despite their opposing alliances during the Cold War. Today Vietnam is one of our closest friends in our part of the globe, a fellow member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
With our perennial rice shortage, we annually turn to Vietnam and another ASEAN neighbor, Thailand, for our rice needs. Vietnam is encouraging Philippine investments and increased bilateral trade. They have an agreement for sharing of information between the Philippine Navy and the Vietnam People’s Navy.
But it is on the South China Sea (SCS) issue where the Philippines and Vietnam have come very close to each other. Vietnam, like the Philippines, has claims to certain islets in the South China Sea, most of which is claimed by China with its nine-dash line. Philippine officials in the previous administration took to calling the SCS the West Philippine Sea, but it might be better to call it the Southeast Asia Sea instead, as suggested by a University of the Philippines professor.
President Duterte opened a two-day state visit to Vietnam yesterday and his delegation should be drawing up important agreements today. After Vietnam, he said he will schedule trips to China, Japan, and Russia, visits that may have significant influences on Philippine policy. When the President said recently that his goal is a more independent foreign policy for the Philippines. he may have been thinking of these three political and economic powers which could help in our country’s development and security.
We value our historic bonds with the United States and its allies in the Western world, our developing relations with their ideological rivals China and Russia, and our long-standing participation in the world community of the United Nations. But the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) remains at the core of our relations with the rest of the world, not the least of which is Vietnam where President Duterte is visiting today.