Manila: Philippines and Vietnam firmed up their defence co-operation to safeguard overlapping claims in the South China Sea, sources said.

Vietnamese defence minister General Phung Quang Thanh and Philippine Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin discussed defence cooperation on their “mutual concerns” such as maritime territorial sovereignty and their 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zones in the South China Sea, statements from the defence ministries of Vietnam and the Philippines said after Thanh’s two-day visit. It ended with a courtesy call to President Benigno Aquino on Tuesday.

It was Gen. Thanh who suggested more country-to-country co-operation in handling overlapping claims in the South China Sea, a Vietnamese source who requested anonymity said.

“The visit of General Thanh to the Philippines clearly reflects the commitment of both countries to enhance co-operation in jointly developing their defence capabilities and in contributing to regional peace and stability,” the Philippines’ defence ministry said in a statement.

Both defence chiefs talked about their respective disputes with China over claims in the South China Sea. They also discussed the decision of the United States to strengthen its presence in the Asia Pacific, a source from the Philippines defence department said.

Policy dialogue

The two defence ministers also agreed to set up a deputy ministerial defence policy dialogue and exchange of defence delegations at different levels. No details were revealed.

During a meeting with President Aquino at Malacanang, the presidential palace, Gen. Thanh praised ties between Vietnam and the Philippines.

Current defence agreements between the Philippines and Vietnam involve training of personnel and co-operation between the coast guard forces of both countries.

Vietnam and the Philippines are two of the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), a regional block that is preparing for dialogue with China to make a code of conduct on claimants of the South China Sea, a document signed by Asean and China in 2002, more legally binding.

Both Vietnam and the Philippines last year raised their complaints with the United Nations over China’s flexing of maritime might in the South China Sea.

China, Taiwan and Vietnam claim the whole of the South China Sea, based on their respective historical rights over the disputed sea lane. Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines, all Asean member countries, claim some parts of the Spratly Archipelago off the South China Sea, based on the provision of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea which grants countries 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone starting from their shores.