The warming of ties between Vietnam and Japan came amid a diplomatic row between Tokyo and Beijing [AFP]

Russia and Japan have signed major investment deals with Vietnam in an effort to help build the southeast Asian country's first nuclear power plants.

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, witnessed the signing of a $5.6bn deal on Sunday for his country to build a nuclear reactor in Vietnam in a bid to boost ties.

"This is a very important project," Medvedev told reporters.

"We are looking into the future and the future is connected with high-tech."

Meanwhile, Naoto Kan, Japan's prime minister, also on a visit to Hanoi, announced with his Vietnamese counterpart that the two countries will join forces to build two other nuclear reactors in Vietnam.

The deal followed talks between government leaders at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit in Hanoi, Vietnam's capital.

The pacts will help energy-hungry Vietnam fulfil plans to build eight nuclear reactors in the next two decades.

Rare earth minerals

Tokyo and Hanoi also agreed to co-operate on developing rare earth minerals for Japan, which are crucial for building high-tech products.

"[Vietnam's] prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung announced that Vietnam has decided to have Japan as a partner for exploration, mining, development, and separation and production of rare earth minerals in the country [Japan]," the two countries' governments said in a joint statement.

Japan is looking to diversify its supply of the rare minerals after a spat with its key provider China. The earth elements are used in products ranging from electronics to hybrid cars.

Tokyo has said that shipments of rare earths from China were blocked during a diplomatic row sparked by the arrest of a Chinese trawlerman in disputed waters.

Japan's stockpile of the minerals could be exhausted by March or April without fresh imports from China, officials have said.

A Japanese official said after Sunday's talks that Japan believes it will win exploitation rights for minerals in Vietnam's northwestern Lai Chau province.

Kan told reporters that the nuclear and rare earths co-operation will lead to even closer ties between the two countries.

"I believe, through this summit, that a historic page opened between Japan and Vietnam," he said.

Source: Agencies