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Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh has returned home after a very productive meeting with his Japanese counterpart Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. It was his first visit to Japan and likewise, he was also the first foreign visitor that Kashida received after taking over as the Prime Minister of Japan. A joint statement highlighting the beginning of a “new era in the bilateral extensive strategic partnership for peace and prosperity in Asia” was released. Both countries also signed a slew of partnerships and agreements concerning COVID-19, digital transformation, infrastructure development and climate change.

The leaders agreed to strengthening political relations and enhancing security cooperation particularly in the oceans and seas. 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), freedom of navigation, maritime security including capacity development of the Vietnamese maritime authorities, sustainable development and utilization of ocean resources are some of the highlights in the Joint Statement. Indo-Pacific, including the AOIP and the principle of ASEAN centrality were flagged by both leaders. Above all, in his opening remarks, Prime Minister Kishida acknowledged the high significance of Vietnam as an important partner “who holds a key to achieving ‘a free and open Indo-Pacific,’”

According to the statement released by Japan’s Foreign Ministry, the two leaders also “expressed serious concerns about the situation in the South China Sea and any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions,” In this context, they “reaffirmed the importance of sustaining peace, security, safety, freedom of navigation and over flights above the South China Sea, and the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law”. ,

Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh’s delegation also included Defense Minister General Phan Van Giang and he had extensive discussions with his Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi. This was their second meeting in less than three months. In September both ministers signed the Japan-Vietnam Defense Equipment and Technology Transfer Agreement. The Agreement was meant to “redefine” their defense collaboration as also to “more proactively contribute” to the “peace and stability of the region and the international community.” Vietnam is the 11th nation with which Japan has signed a defence equipment and technology transfer deal.

Both ministers expressed concern over the current state of instability in the western pacific. In particular they expressed concern over the China’s posturing around Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and Beijing’s expansive claims in the South China Sea, and “strongly opposed” unilateral attempts to change the status quo in regional waters.

They also signed agreements in the field of the cybersecurity and military medicine.  Cyber Security is a high priority for both Japan and the ASEAN (2016 ADMM-Plus cyber security working group) and the ASEAN-Japan Cybersecurity Capacity Building Center announced in 2019 ASEAN.  Japan also has ongoing talks on the issue with Singapore and Indonesia.

In the context of defence technology and capacity building collaboration, Japanese experts will help Vietnamese submariners and pilots on issues concerning their health problems. Furthermore, Japan will also send a contingent of Ground Self-Defense Force to Vietnam to share Japan’s experience and expertise related to peacekeeping operations. It is important to mention that Vietnam has recently contributed to the U.N. mission in Abyei, a contested region between Sudan and South Sudan and its 63-member contingent will provide medical support in “second line health care, emergency resuscitation and stabilization, limb and lifesaving surgical intervention, basic dental care and casualty evacuation to the next level of medical care.  It is important recall that Japan and Vietnam signed an agreement in September this year for supply of defense equipment and technology. However the details of the transfer of specific equipment, possibly naval vessels, are still being discussed. Finally, the above visits are highly significant considering the heft of both countries in East Asia in particular and the Indo-Pacific region.

Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.

Dr Vijay Sakhuja
Dr Vijay Sakhuja
Dr Vijay Sakhuja is Honorary Distinguished Fellow with CPPR and associated with our Centre for Strategic Studies. Dr. Sakhuja, a former Indian Navy officer, is also former Director, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. He earned his MPhil and PhD from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He specializes in issues of national security and public policy, particularly in the context of ocean affairs, geopolitics, Climate Change, Arctic, Blue Economy and 4th Industrial Revolution Technologies.

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