Japan, Vietnam strengthen defense cooperation on 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations

Felix Kim

Japan and Vietnam are marking their 50th year of diplomatic relations by strengthening defense cooperation on land, at sea and in space, as demonstrated by a Japan Coast Guard vessel’s visit to Vietnam for joint drills and exercise planning in February 2023. The efforts, which also include recent visits to Hanoi by Japanese defense officials, underscore Japanese Vice Minister of Defense Yasuhide Nakayama’s call to “make 2023 the year that marks the beginning of a new era for both Japan and Vietnam.”

During his meeting with Vietnamese Minister of National Defense Gen. Ngo Xuan Lich in Hanoi on March 2, 2023, Gen. Koji Yamazaki, chief of the Joint Staff of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, emphasized the significance of the nations’ strong defense cooperation. He said it has become a key pillar in fostering expanded relations between the countries.

Lich stressed the importance of enhancing cooperation through bilateral defense agreements. Such deals include two signed in 2021: one on cooperation in space defense and cybersecurity, and another enabling the sharing of defense equipment and technology. He said defense cooperation is central to the Vietnam-Japan Extensive Strategic Partnership, signed in 2014.

Defense cooperation in education and training, capacity building, and multilateral forums, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum and the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus, were among the topics discussed by Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Gen. Yoshihide Yoshida and Senior Lt. Gen. Nguyen Tan Cuong, chief of the general staff of the Vietnam People’s Army (VPA) and deputy defense minister, in Hanoi in mid-February 2023.

“Vietnam always values the development of its Extensive Strategic Partnership with Japan in which bilateral defense cooperation has made solid progress,” Cuong told reporters afterward.

He noted that Japan recently has given extensive support to the VPA to help it prepare for a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Abyei, a contested area between Sudan and South Sudan in northeast Africa.

Cuong and Yoshida pledged to seek opportunities for further collaboration and strengthening of connections between their armed forces, including in military medicine, cybersecurity, training, and search and rescue operations.

The Japan Coast Guard (JCG) patrol vessel Settsu, with a crew of 52, conducted drills with the Vietnam Coast Guard (VCG) and local law enforcement during its February visit to the port of Da Nang, according to the VPA.

The visit, which was part of ongoing cooperation between the coast guards, commemorated the 25th anniversary of the VCG’s founding, as well as the nations’ half-century of diplomatic ties. Both coast guards are members of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia.

JCG vessels have made regular port calls in Vietnam since 2012, except during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this was the Settsu’s first visit since 2019, according to the VPA. (Pictured: A Japan Coast Guard helicopter and Vietnam Coast Guard ship conduct joint training off Da Nang, Vietnam, in 2017.)

Japan has supported the VCG and other ASEAN coast guards with vessels, technology and training, Nakayama told the state-affiliated VietNamNet online newspaper in October 2022.

“Through 2023, we would like to look back on the Japan-Vietnam relationship and create a commemorative project that is suitable for making it a year to further deepen and expand the relationship,” he said.

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.



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