07/31/2013, 00.00
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South China Sea: Manila and Hanoi allied against Beijing's hegemony

Foreign Ministers meet in the Philippine capital. The talks focused on territorial disputes with Beijing, as well as investment in agriculture and in bilateral cooperation. Growing interest (and presence) of the United States and Japan in the region.

Manila (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Increased cooperation in ensuring the safety of navigation in the South China Sea and countering the hegemony of Beijing, which is increasingly laying claims to areas of land, natural resources and trade control. This is the central theme of the high-level talks between Filipino and Vietnamese diplomats, scheduled for tomorrow, August 1 in Manila in the context of the 7th meeting of the Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation between the Philippines and Vietnam. Other issues under discussion - pending since the last meeting between the two sides in 2011 in Vietnam - include initiatives in the field of security and defense, investment, the development of agriculture and maritime cooperation.

Leading the two delegations will be the Philippine Minister of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario and his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh. The two senior officials will also review and update the existing mechanism of bilateral cooperation, which covers the period 2011-2016.

Both countries are tied to a long-standing and prolonged territorial dispute with China, which more than once has threatened to escalate into open conflict, and incited tensions at home, especially among Vietnamese nationalist movements who have taken to the streets in protest several times . Subsoil riches - such as oil and natural gas - are attracting the attention of Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, with the United States moving behind the scenes to counter Beijing imperialism in a strategic area, through which the two thirds of the worlds maritime trade passes.

Manila has often accused China of incursions into its waters and illegal exploration activities. It has even appealed to the United Nations for international arbitration, to Beijing's irritation.  China aims instead to address unresolved issues through bilateral negotiations. Neither are Beijing and Hanoi strangers to similar clashes, although the Vietnamese communist authorities did not want to take the diplomatic initiative in the Philippines. Indeed, recently Hanoi and Beijing agreed to the joint exploration and exploitation of resources.

Last week, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an official visit to the Philippines, where he met with President Benigno Aquino III. The two Asian leaders discussed territorial disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea.  The United States, meanwhile, is keeping a close watch from behind the scenes with increasing attention to the Asia-Pacific region after ten years of campaigning in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Washington has ensured its Asian allies (on all Tokyo and Manila) greater economic and military presence in the area; the visit of U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, following trips by the Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the Secretary of State Jonh Kerry in recent months are proof of this. However, the United States also aims at improving relations with its former enemy Vietnam, as confirmed by the official visit to the U.S. (in recent days) of a Hanoi delegation led by President Truong Tan Sang.

Among Asia-Pacific nations, China has the largest territorial claims in the South China Sea, including the Spratly and Paracel Islands, which have no permanent population but are resource rich. Regional hegemony would be strategically important for Beijing because it would enable it to control the region's trade and natural resources, such as oil and natural gas. Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have challenged China's expansionist aims.


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