Philippine, Vietnamese troops drink beer, play volleyball on Spratly isle

Reuters/Thanh Nien News

Representatives of Philippine navy are welcomed to the Song Tu Tay Island by Vietnamese officials.

Representatives of Philippine navy are welcomed to the Song Tu Tay Island by Vietnamese officials.

Representatives of Vietnamese and Philippine navies pose for a photo shoot on Song Tu Tay Island, June 8, 2014. Photo credit: QDND

Representatives of Vietnamese and Philippine navies pose for a photo shoot on Song Tu Tay Island, June 8, 2014. Photo credit: QDND

Vietnamese and Philippine troops got together on a disputed island in the East (South China) Sea on Sunday to play soccer and volleyball – as well as drink beer – in a display of unity that will not go unnoticed in Beijing.

The East Sea is internationally known as the South China Sea.

Philippine naval officials billed the event on the Vietnamese-held island as a chance to show the world there can be harmony in the East Sea despite a web of overlapping claims to the potentially energy-rich waters.

The gathering on Southwest Cay in the Spratly, which Vietnam calls Truong Sa, archipelago also symbolizes how once-suspicious neighbors are cooperating in the face of China’s growing assertiveness in disputed waters.

About 40 Philippine naval personnel sailed to the island for the day-long event, Philippine naval officials said.

Besides playing soccer and volleyball, the troops held a tug-of-war competition, put on cultural shows involving singing and dancing and shared food and beer, said Philippine naval spokesman, Lieutenant-Commander Gerard Fabic.

They also shared information on maritime security, natural disaster warnings and search and rescue operations.

Colonel Le Xuan Thuy, a Vietnamese naval official, said the event reflected the goodwill between the two countries.

He told troops from both sides that current conditions in the region were complicated by the “unruly actions of China seriously violating international laws”.

The gathering underscores the growing cooperation between Hanoi and Manila – the two capitals most feeling China’s wrath over the South China Sea – even though both still claim Southwest Cay and dispute other islands. Southwest Cay is almost equidistant from Vietnam and the Philippines.

“We are not only bringing down walls of mistrust and suspicion with one another but building trust and confidence towards peacefully resolving our competing claims,” said a senior Philippine naval official who declined to be identified.

The Philippines would hold a similar event next year, officials said.

China driving countries together

The Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei each claim some of the Spratlys, while China, Taiwan and Vietnam claim the whole chain.

China also claims 90 percent of the 3.5 million sq km (1.35 million sq mile) East China Sea, its reach displayed on its official maps with a so-called nine-dash line that extends deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.
Beijing accuses the other claimants of stirring up trouble in the region.

Diplomats and experts have described the nascent partnership between Hanoi and Manila as part of a web of evolving relationships across Asia that are being driven by fear of China as well as doubts among some, especially in Japan, over the US commitment to the region.

They have said there were increasing levels of trust at a working level, as countries find that China’s projection of naval power into Asia’s waters is driving them together.

Most recently, Vietnam expressed interest in a legal case Manila filed at an international arbitration tribunal in late March, challenging China over its claims in the East Sea.

Indeed, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said last month his government was considering taking legal action against China following the deployment of a Chinese oil rig to Vietnam’s territorial waters.

The Philippine and Vietnamese navies recently agreed to expand cooperation in disputed areas and a Vietnamese guided missile cruiser will soon visit Manila, Philippine naval officials have said.

 http://thanhniennews.com/politics/philippine-vietnamese-troops-drink-beer-play-volleyball-on-spratly-isle-27071.html

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RELATED STORY:

China decries Vietnam-Philippines island games as “farce”

Source: Channel News Asia

China on Monday expressed displeasure after Vietnamese and Filipino troops played sports together on a contested island, with the foreign ministry denouncing the activity as “a farce”.

BEIJING: China on Monday expressed displeasure after Vietnamese and Filipino troops played sports together on a contested island, with the foreign ministry denouncing the activity as “a farce”.

The retort from Beijing came one day after Vietnam hosted Filipino troops on an island it controls in the disputed Spratlys archipelago in the South China Sea that the Philippines’ navy said was designed to “foster camaraderie”.

Tensions between China and both countries have risen in recent months over contested territory in the region, with a dispute between Hanoi and Beijing triggering violent anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam last month.

Asked about the joint sports activity, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Monday at a regular briefing: “Don’t you think that these small tricks conducted by the Philippines and Vietnam are nothing but a farce?”

She also urged Hanoi and Manila to “refrain from taking any actions that may complicate or magnify the dispute” and said that China “exercises indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and adjacent waters”, referring to the Spratlys by their Chinese name.

The first-ever joint games between the Philippine and Vietnamese navies saw them play football and volleyball and were designed to “foster camaraderie” among the troops, Philippine Navy spokesman Lieutenant Commander Gregory Fabic said.

“This also serves as a model of cooperation for the other navies to emulate,” Fabic added, without mentioning China by name.

The Spratlys are a disputed group of reefs, islands and atolls coveted by the Philippines, Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The region is believed to sit atop oil and other mineral deposits and all of the claimants, save for Brunei, have troops in the islands.

Tensions between China and Vietnam have escalated sharply in recent weeks following Beijing’s dispatch of an oil rig to waters surrounding another contested island group, the Paracels.

Last week, Vietnam released dramatic footage showing a large Chinese ship chasing and ramming one of its fishing boats, which then sank near the rig.

Beijing responded Monday by issuing a lengthy defence of its use of the rig on both the foreign ministry website and via the official Xinhua news agency.

“We find it necessary to tell the international community what really happened so as to restore the truth,” Hua said when asked about the document.

China is asking Vietnam to “bring those lawbreakers to account and make full compensations to China,” she added.

The Philippines — which has filed a plea to the United Nations challenging Beijing’s claims to about 70 per cent of the South China Sea — said Saturday it was investigating reports that China was reclaiming land in the Spratlys area.

Hua said she was unable to verify or comment on the reports but maintained that “what kinds of activities China is going to conduct in the Nansha Islands is within China’s jurisdiction”.

– AFP/ac

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/china-decries-vietnam/1142666.html


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