Vietnam the first stop on tour . . .
On Sunday, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam, for his first stop on a four-day visit to Southeast Asia. This is Suga’s first overseas trip since taking office in September, reaffirming the importance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in his regional strategy and Japan’s vision for a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific.’ Suga and his Vietnamese counterpart, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, reportedly signed 12 agreements to strengthen co-operation in economics, energy, security, infrastructure, health care, agriculture, and the environment. With Vietnam grappling with extreme flooding and landslides in its central region, Suga promised to provide immediate natural disaster relief.
Strengthening economic ties . . .
Japan and Vietnam have built strong economic ties over the years. Japan is one of Vietnam’s top investors and the country’s fourth-largest trade partner after China, the U.S., and South Korea. Vietnam has also been a preferred destination for Japanese firms looking to diversify their supply chains from China to Southeast Asia. Japan, meanwhile, has been actively involved in Vietnam’s thriving startup ecosystem. In August, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) chose Vietnam as the first ASEAN country in which to launch a new startup acceleration program. Given these economic ties, the two PMs agreed to accelerate the reopening of their borders for short-term business travellers and the resumption of two-way commercial flights. Prime Minister Nguyen encouraged more Japanese investment in his country during the post-COVID recovery period.
Stronger maritime security co-operation . . .
During the meeting, Japan and Vietnam also sought stronger ties in maritime security amid China’s growing military presence in the South China Sea. Although he did not specifically name China, Prime Minister Suga expressed his concerns, saying, “there is a movement that goes against the rule of law and openness.” Hanoi is seen as an important partner for Japan in strengthening regional defence capabilities and countering China’s aggressions. The two Prime Ministers agreed to a military pact allowing Japan to export defence equipment and technology to Vietnam. Canada also recognizes ASEAN’s growing importance post-pandemic, and agreed to elevate its dialogue relationship with the association to a Strategic Partnership during the September 10 virtual ASEAN-Canada Ministerial Meeting.