Japan, Vietnam counter PRC aggression with cooperation, exchanges

Japan, Vietnam counter PRC aggression with cooperation, exchanges

Felix Kim

Japan and Vietnam are increasing military exchanges and promoting more collaboration between their defense industries in response to aggressive behavior by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that threatens their territorial waters.

Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya, pictured, met his Vietnamese counterpart, Ngo Xuan Lich, in Hanoi on May 2, 2019, to discuss military cooperation and defense industry collaboration. The meeting followed 2018 exchanges when the countries signed defense cooperation agreements and echoed the tone of statements by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in February 2019 when he emphasized the need to work together “to solve regional problems and create a free and open Indian-Pacific region.”

At the May 2 meeting, the defense ministers explored ways to enhance defense relations within the framework of a joint vision statement signed in 2018, reported Vietnam News Agency (VNA), Hanoi’s official government news outlet. They also covered their forthcoming roles as co-chairs of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus Experts’ Working Group on Peacekeeping Operationsin 2020.

“I expressed Japan’s hopes to promote high-level exchange, port and airport calls by vessels and aircraft,” Japan’s Iwaya told reporters on May 3, 2019, “and enhance capacity-building assistance based on this [joint vision statement] and also to promote multilateral cooperation and hold policy consultations.”

Partnerships between the nations in defense training, capacity improvement, information technology, U.N. peacekeeping, military medicine and the defense industry will continue, VNA added. “With respect to the regional situation, we exchanged opinions on the South and East China Sea issues,” Iwaya said, referring to maritime territorial disputes that both Tokyo and Hanoi have with Beijing.

Japan’s Senkaku Islands, in the country’s southwestern waters, also are claimed by the PRC, which has repeatedly sent government vessels into the coastal waters of the Senkakus. Tokyo has responded by deploying its Self-Defense Forces to nearby islands to defend the Senkakus.

Hanoi, meanwhile, claims ownership of the Paracels, a group of islands and reefs in the South China Sea between Vietnam and China. The PRC seized the Parcels from Vietnam in a naval battle in 1974 and has been steadily building outposts on artificial islands constructed near the Paracels in recent years. The PRC is staking claims to the surrounding waters that Vietnam claims as part of its exclusive economic zone. The PRC pressured Vietnam to abandon oil drilling in the waters in 2018. Hanoi and Beijing also clash over possession of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

“We would like to use my latest visit as a springboard for further strengthening and promoting defense exchange between Japan and Vietnam,” Iwaya said.

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