By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

PHILIPPINE President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. and Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh have vowed to expand their relations beyond rice trade to include tourism and defense.

Mr. Marcos on Wednesday met with his Vietnamese counterpart on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Indonesia, where they also talked about boosting trade of other products, the presidential palace said in a statement on Thursday.

Philippine-Vietnam ties should expand beyond rice, Mr. Marcos Jr. told Mr. Pham. The market is “ripe for continued development” in agriculture, transfer of technologies for climate change and products that Vietnam had excelled in, he added.

Vietnam is the world’s third-largest rice exporter, and the Philippines has for years been its biggest buyer.

Mr. Marcos Jr. said he sees Vietnam as an important partner in rehabilitating the Philippine tourism sector amid a coronavirus pandemic.

About 32,970 Vietnamese visited the Philippines in February to September last year, according to the Tourism department.

The Philippines had 2.65 million international visitor arrivals in 2022 and P208.96 billion ($3.75 billion) in tourism revenue, more than 25 times higher than a year earlier, according to government data.

The government targets 2.6-6.4 million international tourist arrivals this year.

Vietnam would supply rice to the Philippines at reasonable prices for the long term, Mr. Pham told Mr. Marcos at their meeting, Reuters reported.

Hanoi has “great empathy” for Manila, the Vietnamese leader said, noting that Filipinos often face natural disasters that affect farm output.

Leonardo M. Lanzona, who teaches economics at the Ateneo de Manila University, said there’s nothing much to expect from the talks, calling on the public to be critical of partnerships being forged by Mr. Marcos with his counterparts during foreign trips.

“I am just wondering how much of all these are for show business,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “World prices change, and we cannot expect Vietnam to stabilize its prices and forego its economic objectives just for the sake of strategic cooperation.”

“The more compelling solution is for the country to develop its best strategy in response to whatever best strategy that its trading partner has,” he said. “We need to rethink how we are going to transform our agriculture sector to reach its full capacity amid all of these tensions and economic challenges.”

The Philippines plans to import 330,000 metric tons of rice this year. The National Food Authority wants rice imports through government-to-government deals.

“Vietnam is a reliable economic partner in the area of stabilizing the country’s rice market, particularly during times of tight domestic production,” Terry L. Ridon, a public investment analyst and a former lawmaker, said via Messenger chat. “However, this is also indicative of the need for the Philippines to continue its rice self-sufficiency objectives, because no agriculture-rich nation should be dependent on importing its main food staple.”

He said engaging Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries “diversifies our exposure to a wider stretch of economies,” reducing reliance on larger economies like China and the United States, which are both being blamed for increasing regional tensions.

“This ensures that in the event of rising political tensions between global powers, the country can rely on other partners for various goods and services,” Mr. Ridon said.

The three-day 42nd ASEAN Summit and Related Summits take place amid increasing tensions between China and the US, which has vowed to defend Taiwan in case of a Chinese invasion.

Aside from criticizing China’s aggression against self-ruled Taiwan, Washington has also been vocal against Beijing’s expansive activities in the South China Sea.

Mr. Ridon said Vietnam could expand its investments in the Philippines through the amended Public Service Act, which liberalizes key public services.

“The law provides an avenue to expand Vietnamese investments in various infrastructure projects,” he said. “They may enter as technical or financial partners in prospective projects. Hanoi should welcome a further expansion of Filipino investments in Vietnam.”

The palace said Mr. Marcos and his Vietnamese counterpart had also agreed to boost the two countries’ defense cooperation. It did not elaborate.

The Philippines, Vietnam, China, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia hold different — in some cases overlapping — territorial claims over the South China Sea.

Vietnam claims the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by both China and Taiwan. It also claims the entirety of the Spratly Islands — having occupied 25 features — as do China and Taiwan.

China is the largest trading partner of both the Philippines and Vietnam.

Despite their relatively stable relations, Hanoi has been standing up to China’s aggression in the disputed waterway. In 2014, the two countries quarreled over a Chinese plan to move its oil platform to waters near the disputed Paracel Islands.

Raymond Powell, a fellow at the Stanford University’s Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation, earlier told BusinessWorld Vietnam is likely appreciative of the Philippine Coast Guard’s maritime transparency, which aims to expose China’s aggression in Philippine waters.

“However, any open support from Hanoi is likely to be subdued and measured,” he said in an e-mail.

The US-Vietnam relationship has been on an upward trajectory, with their bilateral trade growing “over 200-fold since normalization,” according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Efforts to resolve legacies of the Vietnam war as well as “shared threat perceptions” regarding China have greatly contributed to their improving ties, it said in a 2014 report.

“Vietnam makes much of its independent foreign policy, which includes an iron-clad commitment not to join any one country or bloc against another,” Mr. Powell said. “While Vietnam’s government internally considers China its top security threat, its external statements and actions remain restrained unless its own interests are directly threatened.”

Mr. Powell noted that if the Philippine government seeks to partner with Vietnam in the South China Sea, it would have to be creative “so as not to trigger Hanoi’s strong disinclination toward joining blocs or provoking Beijing’s ire.”