Oct 19 , 2020. 3 hours ago – 18:03 KYODO NEWS
HANOI – Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Monday affirmed defense and economic cooperation between their countries, as China’s growing influence continues to make its neighbors jittery.
Meeting the press after summit talks with Phuc in Hanoi, Suga called Vietnam a linchpin in efforts to realize a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and vowed Japan’s “continued contribution to peace and prosperity in the region.”
Suga, who is on his first overseas trip since becoming prime minister, criticized actions in the South China Sea that “go against the rule of law,” a veiled reference to Beijing’s increasing assertiveness in the disputed waters.
“It is important that all nations involved work toward a peaceful resolution of conflicts in the South China Sea without resorting to force or coercion,” Suga said in a speech at the Vietnam Japan University.
Following the one-hour meeting with Phuc, Suga said the countries had agreed in principle on a pact that would enable Japan to export defense equipment and technology to Vietnam.
Such equipment, likely including patrol planes and radar, would help improve the surveillance capabilities of Vietnam, which is one of the claimants in territorial disputes in the South China Sea including over the Spratly Islands, where China is building up a military presence.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (L) shakes hands with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in Hanoi on Oct. 19, 2020, during a four-day trip to Vietnam and Indonesia on his first foreign trip since taking office. (Pool photo) (Kyodo)
Suga and Phuc agreed to resume regular flights between their countries at an early date, and to implement a “business track” that would allow executives and workers to travel without a 14-day quarantine period provided they follow certain COVID-19 precautions.
The leaders also affirmed cooperation over North Korea, with Suga saying Phuc voiced support for Japan’s efforts to secure the return of citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.
Phuc said he is ready to support Japanese investment in Vietnam including by accommodating its real estate and human resource needs, adding he is hopeful of further strengthening bilateral relations.
Japan is looking to diversify its supply chain to mitigate risks brought to light by the COVID-19 crisis, including its reliance on Chinese imports for face masks.
The government is handing out subsidies to firms that move production to Southeast Asia, which is both geographically well-placed and can provide relatively cheap labor.
Of the 30 firms chosen so far to receive the subsidies, ranging from manufacturers of medical gowns and disinfectant wipes to car engine parts, half are planning to set up in Vietnam.
In the speech at Vietnam Japan University, which opened in 2016 with funding from both countries, Suga stressed he will pursue cooperation with other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in bolstering supply chains.
Suga, who became prime minister in mid-September after his predecessor Shinzo Abe stepped down for health reasons, also met with Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong.
The four-day trip to Southeast Asia by Suga, considered an able hand at coordinating domestic policy as Abe’s long-time chief Cabinet secretary, is seen as an opportunity for him to demonstrate his diplomatic skills.
After attending a gala dinner with his wife Mariko in the evening, Suga will fly to Jakarta on Tuesday on the second leg of his trip for talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (C, L) and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (C, R) pose for a photo in Hanoi on Oct. 19, 2020. (Pool photo) (Kyodo)