Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday promised closer security and economic ties with Vietnam, bolstering an alliance that shares concerns over rising Chinese territorial assertiveness in the region.
On his first overseas tour since he was elected, Abe is visiting Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia — three Southeast Asian nations that are major manufacturing bases and growing markets for Japanese companies as Tokyo seeks to grow its moribund economy.
The region is gaining importance as manufacturers seek to balance risks from their investments in China, where anti-Japanese riots sparked by tensions over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) in the East China Sea have hurt exports and prompted boycotts of some Japanese products. The islands are called the Senkakus in Japan, and are also claimed by Taiwan and China.
Tensions between Vietnam and China have also been rising over Beijing’s claims over the resource-rich South China Sea, much of which Hanoi claims as its territory.
Hanoi was Abe’s first stop on the trip, which ends in Jakarta, Indonesia, early on Saturday.
In brief statements to the media, neither he nor Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung mentioned China, but stressed the importance of their partnership.
Japan is Vietnam’s largest foreign investor, with US$29 billion of investments in 1,800 projects. The East Asian economic powerhouse is also Vietnam’s largest bilateral donor, providing nearly US$20 billion in low-interests loans over the past 20 years for infrastructure projects.
Separately, Japan said it may station military equipment on islands near the Diaoyutais, officials said yesterday.
The Japanese Ministry of Defense will ask for money in the next fiscal year to study the idea of putting mobile radars and communication systems on islands near the chain.
The comment came after reports said Japan is considering permanently stationing F-15 fighter jets on Shimoji, a small island close to the disputed island chain.
Japanese Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera denied that and said on Tuesday: “We are studying various options as to how to build a sound security system in our southwestern waters.”
The maritime dispute heated up last year when Tokyo nationalized three of the islets in the chain.