MANILA, Philippines — Filipino and Vietnamese troops played football and tug-of-war Wednesday to foster camaraderie at a Philippine-held island in the South China Sea, where territorial rifts have escalated following China’s island-building activities.
Navy spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo said officials from both navies spoke at a ceremony and the two sides also exchanged “symbolic handshakes.”
The activity on Northeast Cay island was followed by volleyball, football, tug-o-war, sack race and centipede race. Results of the games were not immediately known.
Arevalo said Wednesday’s games were to reciprocate a similar event in June last year at the Vietnamese-occupied Southwest Cay about 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) from Northeast Cay, which the Philippines calls Parola.
“Interpersonal interactions like this intend to bring about camaraderie and understanding,” Arevalo said. “It intends to enhance cordial relations while engaging opponent teams through sports events.”
He said the activity was conducted independent of other countries and “it does not intend to pick on China.”
China last year criticized the games as “clumsy farce” and reiterated Beijing’s “irrefutable sovereignty” over the islands in the South China Sea.
Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez, whose command oversees Philippine-claimed areas in the Spratly chain of islands, said China has no reason to criticize the confidence-building activity, which the Philippines also pursues with other Southeast Asian neighbours.
Although they’re technically rivals, Vietnam and the Philippines recently have discussed ways to co-operate to ease tensions in the disputed waters, where both have been engaged in dangerous standoffs with China.
Southwest Cay, which the Philippines also claims and calls Pugad, used to be occupied by Filipino troops but was seized by Vietnamese forces in the 1970s.