Thu, Sep 17, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Japan to provide aid, expand ties with Vietnam


Japan is to extend ¥100 billion (US$832 million) in infrastructure aid to Vietnam and provide patrol boats as the two countries vow to expand ties amid growing concern over China’s muscle-flexing in disputed areas of the South China Sea.

Japan will supply Vietnam’s coast guard with ¥200 million worth of used ships and equipment, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after meeting with Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Japan’s aid to Vietnam and commitments from both countries to increase security and defense cooperation signal a new alignment of interests among Asian nations that increasingly view China as an economic and military threat. Closer relations between Vietnam and Japan, a close US ally, will be viewed suspiciously by Beijing.

“Japan wants to give the Southeast Asian states resources so they are not totally victimized by China,” Southeast Asia Analytics principal Zachary Abuza said by telephone from Boston. “Chinese assertions of sovereignty in the South China Sea scare Japan more than any other country. Almost all of its energy comes through there.”

Competing territorial claims between Vietnam and China in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes have strained relations between the two countries. China placed an oil rig in waters near the contested Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) last year, triggering clashes between Vietnamese and Chinese boats and anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam. Tensions have also risen over China’s reclamation of reefs in the South China Sea, even as its Communist neighbor remains by far Vietnam’s largest trading partner.

Since the oil rig incident, the pace of high-level visits between Hanoi and Washington has picked up. US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter was in Hanoi in June, followed by US Secretary of State John Kerry last month.

Trong invited US President Barack Obama to visit Vietnam during Trong’s July visit to Washington, the first time a Vietnamese Communist Party head has traveled to the US.

Trade between Japan and Vietnam was US$27.6 billion last year, with Japan importing US$14.7 billion in goods from the Southeast Asian country, according to data released by the General Department of Vietnam Customs.

Japan agreed to provide Vietnam with maritime patrol ships last year. The US is also providing Vietnam with six patrol boats, part of an US$18 million military aid package.

Trong, during his Washington visit, called for closer relations with the US and said: “We highly appreciate the United States’ increasing interest in the situation in the East Sea.”

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