Japan, Vietnam agree to boost defense ties, resume flights

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Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, center left, and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc, center right, visit the late President Ho Chi Minh's Stilt House in Hanoi, Vietnam, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. Suga is on an official visit to Vietnam. (AP Photo/Minh Hoang, Pool)

HANOI – Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, in his first overseas summit since taking office last month, agreed with his Vietnamese counterpart to step up defense and security cooperation in the face of China's expanding influence in the region.

In talks in Hanoi on Monday, Suga and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc set a basic agreement allowing Japan to export defense equipment and technology to Vietnam. Japan has been pursuing such pacts in recent years to bolster ties with Southeast Asia and sustain its own defense industry.

Suga said his four-day trip to Vietnam and later Indonesia was key to pursuing multilateral economic and security cooperation to counter China’s growing power and protect sea lanes in disputed areas of the South China Sea.

“Vietnam is crucial to achieving our vision of ‘the Free and Open Indo-Pacific,’ and our valuable partner,’” Suga told a news conference after his meeting with Phuc. “Japan, as an Indo-Pacific nation, will continue to contribute to the peace and stability in this region.”

Suga said Vietnam, at the center of the region, was the most suitable destination for his first trip abroad as Japan’s leader.

Neither of the two leaders mentioned China by name in their news conference. Phuc said the peace and stability of the South China Sea should be protected by the rule of law, not unilaterally by force or threats.

"Vietnam appreciates that Japan, one of the world's leading powers, is actively contributing its efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region and in the world,” Phuc said.

In a speech later Monday at Vietnam-Japan University, Suga said that Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” concept and “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific," formulated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2019, share values such as rule of law, openness, transparency and freedom.