Japan, Vietnam boost defense ties as South China Sea tensions mount

Elias Hubbard
October 19, 2020

Speaking to reporters along with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called Vietnam a "cornerstone" of efforts to realize a "free and open Indo-Pacific" and vowed Japan's continued contribution to "peace and prosperity in the region", according to Kyodo News Agency.

Calling Japan a major global power, Phuc said he also welcomes the country's active contribution to the peace and stability of the region and the world.

Japan and Vietnam agreed on Monday (Oct 19) to strengthen security and economic ties, including an agreement in principle for Japan to export military gear and technology to the Southeast Asian nation, amid concerns about China's regional assertiveness. He and Suga reconfirmed the importance of resolving disputes through peaceful means, rather than force, in order to secure peace and stability and freedom of navigation.

Suga said Vietnam, which chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year, is a pivot and an important partner in achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Suga expressed strong support for their vision and said together Japan and ASEAN can achieve a peaceful and prosperous future.

In a speech later Monday, Suga said Japan opposed any steps to heighten tensions in the South China Sea, where Vietnam and other ASEAN members have territorial disputes with China.

Back in Tokyo, Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters that Japan's Maritime Self-Defence Force will conduct a joint drill with USA and Australian navies around the South China Sea on Monday, Kyodo news agency reported. Vietnam is a 12th partner. In its first actual delivery of such exports, Japan in August exported a radar surveillance system to the Philippines.

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Japan partially lifted its ban on military equipment and technology transfer in 2014 as part of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to build Japan's defense capabilities.

Japan and Vietnam also reached an agreement on starting "business track" flights after travel between the two nations was suspended in March.

Suga and Phuc witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding for Japan's Marubeni Corp to invest $1.3 billion in a power plant in Vietnam's Can Tho province and another for Tokyo Gas Co Ltd and PetroVietnam Power Corp to jointly develop a $1.9 billion gas-fired plant in Vietnam. Vietnamese accounts for more than half of the foreign workers Japan has accepted in recent years to make up for its declining and aging population. Japan is also Vietnam's largest overseas aid donor, providing Dollars 23 billion as of 2019 and accounting for more than a quarter of Vietnam's foreign loans.

Japan is looking to diversify its supply chain to mitigate risks brought to light by the COVID-19 crisis, including its reliance on Chinese imports for face masks.

In August, Vietnam agreed to buy six coast guard patrol boats worth $345 million from Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (L) shakes hands with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in Hanoi on October 19, 2020, during a four-day trip to Vietnam and Indonesia on his first foreign trip since taking office.

Japan must balance its deep economic ties to China with security concerns, including Beijing's claims over disputed isles in the East China Sea.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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