Published: 11:17, April 16, 2024
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China-Vietnam hotline sets example for handling of maritime disputes
By China Daily

That China and Vietnam have agreed to establish a hotline between the Chinese People's Liberation Army's Southern Theater Command and the Vietnamese navy reflects the strategic mutual trust that exists between the two countries. The latest development indicates that the two sides do not want their territorial disputes in the South China Sea to impinge on their friendly relations, as the Philippines has allowed to happen.

The move comes at a time when tensions are high in the South China Sea, mainly because Manila, supported and encouraged by Washington, has been taking increasingly aggressive actions to challenge China's territorial sovereignty over Ren'ai Reef and Huangyan Island. The provocative and confrontational trespassing of the Philippines in the surrounding waters has led to several standoffs between Philippine and Chinese coastguard vessels in recent months.

On Thursday, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took part in trilateral talks with the US and Japanese leaders in Washington, during which US President Joe Biden once again hyped up the Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines. Notably, the summit was held just days after the three countries and Australia carried out joint military drills in the South China Sea. The Philippine leader should understand that, as Vietnam has shown, it is a common aspiration of regional countries to make the South China Sea one of peace and cooperation, and stirring up trouble by seeking help from external forces only jeopardizes regional peace and stability.

The China-Vietnam "theater-level" hotline was announced after the eighth border defense friendship exchange that took place near the two countries' border from Thursday to Friday, which Chinese Defense Minister Dong Jun and his Vietnamese counterpart Phan Van Giang attended. Dong, during his talks with Giang, had called on the two sides to "make maritime cooperation a new highlight of cooperation between the two militaries".

The move comes after Chinese and Vietnamese navy chiefs agreed three years ago to set up a hotline as part of efforts to improve information sharing and manage the risk of conflict. A direct line between the countries' defense ministries was established at the end of 2015, and the new naval hotline points to the close ties that have been forged between the two militaries.

China and Vietnam have competing claims in the South China Sea. But the consensus reached between the top leadership of the two countries holds that the maritime disputes are only a small part of bilateral relations, and the two sides should properly handle them in the spirit of mutual trust and mutual respect and focus on the opportunities of bilateral maritime cooperation.

As comprehensive strategic cooperative partners, China and Vietnam have seen the sound and steady development of friendly and mutually beneficial relations in recent years. China has long been the largest trading partner of Vietnam, and Vietnam is China's largest trading partner among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its fourth-largest trading partner in the world.

Thus the two countries share far more common interests than differences. It serves the two countries' interests if they work together to find long-term and mutually acceptable solutions to their maritime disputes. The establishment of high-level contacts between the two countries and the two militaries enables them to conduct timely communication, avoid misunderstandings and strengthen mutual trust and cooperation.

The Philippines should stop playing the role of a pawn in Washington's geopolitical games, which is to the detriment of its own interests, and instead take a leaf out of Vietnam's book and work with China to properly manage their differences, and not let their territorial disputes undermine the potential for cooperation.