Vietnam's President visits Japan

Vietnam's President visits Japan
March 18th, 2014  

Topic: Vietnam's President visits Japan

Vietnam's President visits Japan

The forthcoming four-day visit of President of Vietnam Truong Tan Sang to Japan beginning 16 March 2014 is the latest development in Vietnam’s foreign policy activism with a view to deepen diplomatic relations. Sang will be accompanied by his spouse Madam Mai Thi Hanh. The visit is at the invitation of the Emperor of Japan.
Coming in the wake of China’s increased maritime assertiveness and its territorial disputes in the East and South China Sea, Sang’s visit assumes added significance. Security issues in Asia, China’s assertiveness on regional issues as well as nuclear and missile development by North Korea are likely to be high on the agenda of the summit meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Sang and Abe are expected to agree on enhanced bilateral cooperation in areas such as agriculture, education and healthcare. Both the leaders are also expected to sign deals for yen loans from Japan to finance development projects in Vietnam. North Korea’s past abduction of Japanese citizens has prevented Tokyo and Pyongyang from normalising relations. During the election campaign, Abe had promised the families of the abductees that his government would spare no effort to get those nationals abducted by North Korea released. Since Vietnam has diplomatic ties with North Korea, Abe is expected to seek Vietnam’s help on this.
During their stay in Japan, Sang and Hanh will make a State Call on Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan. Their Majesties the Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will host a State Banquet in honour of the President and his souse. Abe will host a dinner for the President. A press release by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the President’s visit “will further strengthen the friendly relations between Japan and the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam”.
Both Abe and Sang last met in October in Indonesia on the sidelines of an international conference. During that time, both the leaders agreed to promote maritime security cooperation and to encourage Japanese companies to invest more in Vietnam. Sang will also deliver a speech at the Diet on 18 March and the following day will meet with Japanese business leaders before departing on 19 March.
Economic Ties

Vietnam and Japan established diplomatic relations on 21 September 1973. Since then, bilateral ties have undergone some historical ups and downs until Japan resumed its ODA provisions to Vietnam in 1992. Japan is Vietnam’s biggest development assistance donor and investor. From 1992 to 2003, Japan has provided $21 billion ODA to Vietnam, making the country’s leading ODA donor.
Vietnam-Japan bilateral trade turnover reached over $25.6 billion in 2013 and the figure is expected to double by 2020. During the year, Japan invested $5.7 billion in Vietnam, accounting for 26.6 per cent of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Vietnam.
Until 2002, economic cooperation remained the brightest spot in the bilateral ties. Subsequently, bilateral relations have assumed multilateral dimension as mutual understanding and trust have been consolidated. Bilateral ties were elevated into a strategic partnership in 2009. In 2011, Japan was the first G-7 country to recognise Vietnam as a market economy. Currently, the two countries are working together in negotiations on the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.
During Vietnam Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh’s visit to Japan in September 2013, Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida pledged roughly 54 billion Yen in loans to Vietnam for infrastructure projects. The loan offer was aimed at a highway project and an airport terminal project, both in Hanoi, and a hydroelectric power project in southern Vietnam.
Why Japan and Vietnam?

Japan and Vietnam might sound two different worlds. The world’s third largest economy and Northeast Asia’s newly emerging economy differ on many fronts – broadly in their systems of government. How can they come together, one might ask? The ready answer could be that their pass may never cross. But this geo-economic logic has been disproved by history. Why is this so? This is because if one goes by the theory that relations between the two countries have been greatly influenced by outside powers, one notices a striking example how Japan-Vietnam relations have evolved in recent times. Though the economies of the two countries are deepening in recent years, it is the strategic dimension of the relationship that provides solidity in their bilateral ties.
In the late nineteenth century, confronted by Western colonialism, Vietnamese’s nationalists took refuge in Japan and sought inspiration from Japan’s economic development and resistance to the West. Following the occupation of Vietnam by the imperial army during the Pacific War and the utilization of the Okinawa base by the American B-52′s bombers during the Vietnam war, Tokyo has been perceived as an enemy. Today the story is different. Rapprochement between the two countries and a convergence of their interests make the Japan-Vietnam partnerships an ideal model for bilateral relationship in Asia and marks a significant landmark in the emergence of a new Asia. And, what is that driving this new orientation in the Japan-Vietnam relationship? As China threatens Asia by its aggressive postures, a new balance of power in Asia is emerging and leading to reorienting relationships between adversaries. The evolving contours of Japan-Vietnam ties should be seen from this perspective.
Defence cooperation

The single most important factor that seems to be drawing both Japan and Vietnam closer seems to be their territorial disputes with China in the East and South China Seas. The China factor is also leading both the countries to strengthen the ongoing bilateral dialogue between defence and foreign affairs officials. Japan is determined to deal with the Senkaku Islands dispute “calmly and resolutely but without escalating” tensions and Vietnam endorses Japan’s views that the dispute should be resolved in line with international law. Similarly, Vietnam’s position on its territorial dispute in the South China Sea remains unchanged. Japan endorses Vietnam’s approach as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that the dispute should be addressed by working out a regional code of maritime conduct.
In fact, the defence cooperation between the two countries is not sudden. On 24 October 2011, Japanese Defence Minister of Japan Yasuo Ichikawa and his Vietnamese counterpart Phung Quang Thanh signed a memorandum on defence cooperation and exchange in Tokyo. This agreement to cooperate was in the light of China’s increasing influence in the South China Sea, where Hanoi is locked in a territorial dispute with Beijing.
Under the memorandum on defense cooperation and exchange, vice defense minister-level officials from Japan and Vietnam will hold regular dialogue. The Self-Defense Forces and the Vietnamese military will visit each other’s country. The document also said the two countries will cooperate in rescue efforts in the event of a disaster in Southeast Asia or elsewhere. The defense cooperation memorandum is Japan’s second with a Southeast Asian country following the one with Singapore, concluded in December 2009.
Thanh’s visit to Japan was the first for a Vietnamese defence minister in 13 years. At that time, Ichikawa had observed: “The relationship between Japan and Vietnam has entered a new stage of development”. He further observed: “Vietnam is our strategic partner for peace and stability in Asia, and we want to deepen our partnership.” From his side, Phanh had observed: “The relationship between the two countries is extremely important”.
From Vietnam’s perspective, its plan to reinforce its relationship with Japan is to counter China’s growing military might in the South China Sea and Japan supports a peaceful resolution. At that time, Japan’s Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba too had remarked that the seas are public goods and that a broad range of issues should be discussed in an open forum.
Beijing’s assertive claims to maritime boundaries in the South China Sea have rattled America’s regional partners. This too has led Washington to deepen its security cooperation with Vietnam, the Philippines and other states whose territorial claims China disputes.
It is interesting to note here that China even sees Russia as rivals than allies on this issue. To Beijing’s dismay, Moscow has remained silent on the territorial disputes. Even Russian energy companies have signed deals with Vietnam to develop oil and gas resources in the South China Sea – in waters claimed by China. Beijing also feels uncomfortable as Russia’s defense industry is expanding its weapons sales throughout Southeast Asia, including selling advanced attack submarines to the Vietnamese Navy. By its own aggressive posturing, Beijing is getting isolated in Asia without friends, except probably North Korea and to some extent Pakistan.

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