China's unilateral ownership claims to the South China Sea are not supported by its neighbors or any significant power. The trajectory of the dispute seems to be a mobilization of neighbors, inch-by-inch and with backing from Washington, to build up to a repudiation of China's claims. One should expect a framework to then be imposed, primarily to contain China, with the signatories agreeing to enforce the terms by force if necessary.
Vietnam and the Philippines agreed on Tuesday, January 30, to boost cooperation between the respective coastguards. The two memorandums of understanding dealt with "incident prevention in the South China Sea" and "maritime cooperation".
Before meeting Vietnam's President Vo Van Thuong, Philippine President Marcos said that "[Vietnam is] the sole strategic partner of the Philippines [in Southeast Asia]." He continued by stressing that maritime cooperation was the foundation of that relationship. The key word there for foreign investors to notice is "sole".
Both Vietnam and the Philippines have contested territorial claims in the South China Sea with China, which unilaterally asserts extensive control over the resource-rich region through its "Nine-Dash Line." These claims often lead to tensions and incidents in the disputed waters mostly with Philippine vessels of late. The differences between the nations pale in comparision to their fears of Chinese domination of their seas and territories. Both have been increasingly vocal in asserting their maritime rights and advocating for a peaceful resolution of disputes. A collapsing China is far more dangerous to its neighbors than one growing rapidly.
America maintains strong military and diplomatic ties with both nations, particularly with the Philippines which is the only English-speaking and Christian nation in the region. Washington DC shares concerns about China's dominion of the South China Sea and opposes China's claims. The signing of the agreements takes a step towards a unified regional repudiation of Chinese claims to the South China Sea, while not crossing that rubicon just yet.
The nations also discussed increasing economic cooperation.