Japan and Vietnam have agreed to step up cooperation amid worries about China’s growing military influence, signing a new deal that enables the export of Japanese-made defence equipment and technology to Hanoi.
Japan’s Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said the deal, signed on Saturday, elevates the two countries’ defence partnership “to a new level” and that Japan and Vietnam plan to deepen defence ties through multinational joint exercises and other means.
Details about the transfer of specific equipment, including naval vessels, will be worked out in subsequent talks, the Japanese Defence Ministry said in a statement.
Kishi’s meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart, Phan Van Giang, in Hanoi coincided with a two-day visit to the Vietnamese capital by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
The Chinese diplomat wrapped up his visit by saying Beijing plans to donate three million doses of its coronavirus vaccine to Vietnam. He also said China and Vietnam should refrain from any unilateral actions regarding the South China Sea that could complicate the situation and magnify disagreements.
Vietnam has territorial disputes with China over the Spratly and Paracel island groups in the South China Sea.
In a veiled reference to China’s increasingly assertive actions in the disputed waters, Japan’s Defence Ministry said Kishi and Giang agreed on the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation and overflight in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as cooperation in various defence areas including cybersecurity.
The ministry said Kishi expressed Japan’s strong opposition to “any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by coercion or any activities that escalate tensions”.
Japan and China are also embroiled in a territorial dispute, with Tokyo regularly protesting against the Chinese coastguard’s presence in the East China Sea near the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which Beijing also claims and calls Diaoyu. Japanese officials say Chinese vessels routinely violate Japanese territorial waters around the islands, sometimes threatening fishing boats.
Vietnam is the 11th nation with which Japan has signed a defence equipment and technology transfer deal.
Tokyo is looking to expand military cooperation beyond its longtime ally, the United States, and has signed similar agreements with the United Kingdom, Australia, the Philippines and Indonesia.