Japan and Vietnam signed Saturday a deal enabling exports of Japanese-made defense equipment and technology to the Southeast Asian country to boost cooperation amid China's rising assertiveness in regional waters.
The two countries signed the accord in Hanoi during Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi's first trip overseas after assuming the post last year. Japan will thus accelerate negotiations with Vietnam to sell Self-Defense Forces' vessels, the Defense Ministry said in a statement following talks with his Vietnamese counterpart Phan Van Giang.
Vietnam, as one of the key members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is the 11th country to sign such an agreement with Japan, at a time when China is asserting its claims in the East and South China seas.
A ministry official said the accord comes as "Vietnam is diversifying its reliance on defense equipment."
Vietnam has strong defense ties with Russia and relies on it for most of its equipment, including submarines and fighter jets, as it was part of the ex-Communist bloc during the Cold War.
According to the statement, Kishi and Giang agreed to work together to maintain a rule-based international order and reaffirmed the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight, as well as to abide by international law, in a veiled counter against Beijing.
Vietnam has territorial disputes with China over the Spratly and Paracel island groups in the South China Sea, with Beijing accused of militarizing the outposts it has built.
During the meeting, Kishi told Giang he wants to send a message to the international community to express his strong opposition to "any unilateral attempts to change the status quo," as Beijing lays claim to the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Kishi conveyed his view to maintain and strengthen the free and open Indo-Pacific and raised concerns regarding a Chinese law implemented in February, allowing its coast guard to use weapons against foreign ships it views as having illegally entered its waters.
The ministers agreed to enhance further defense cooperation, such as through port calls in Vietnam by Japan Self-Defense Forces' vessels and aircraft.
They also vowed to foster negotiation to sign a memorandum to collaborate in cybersecurity and sanitation including against infectious diseases.
Kishi condemned the launches of ballistic missiles by North Korea and said Japan will work with Vietnam to achieve North Korea's "complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles of all ranges."