Manila, Hanoi turn to sports to ease sea dispute

Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — It's a confrontation the world might like in the disputed South China Sea.

Philippine and Vietnamese troops plan to hold a sports festival, including basketball, volleyball and tug-of-war games, in the Spratly Islands in the first such display of goodwill by two rival claimant countries to ease tensions in the long-contested waters, three Philippine military officials said Wednesday.

Weather-permitting, the countries plan to hold the games on Sunday in Vietnamese-occupied Southwest Cay, which lies near a Filipino-guarded islet in the sea, according to the three officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of the event with reporters.

The countries signed an agreement to hold the games and have been planning the event since last year, they said.

Although they're technically rivals, the two countries have recently discussed ways to cooperate to help bring down tensions in the disputed waters, where both have been locked in dangerous standoffs with China.

Alarm over the disputes racheted early last month when China deployed an oil rig in waters also claimed by Hanoi, igniting violent protests in Vietnam that killed at least two Chinese.

Vietnamese authorities have since quelled the violence but Chinese and Vietnamese ships remain in a standoff, sparking calls from countries across Asia and beyond for the two to peacefully settle their dispute.