In mid-April, Japan and Vietnam vowed to expand their defense cooperation during an official visit by Vietnam’s army chief to Tokyo. In an email interview, Corey Wallace, a teaching fellow at the University of Auckland who studies international security and Japan’s regional relations, explained the development of the Japan-Vietnam defense relationship and what it means for each country’s tensions with China.
WPR: What has been the recent history of Japan-Vietnam defense cooperation?
Corey Wallace: While official defense connections began developing when Vietnam joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a key turning point for the defense relationship came in 2010. After visits to Vietnam by Japan’s vice minister of defense and the Maritime Self Defense Force (MSDF) chief early that year, in July the two countries agreed to hold regular sub-ministerial level “two plus two” discussions. For Japan this is important because it only has “two plus two” arrangements with the United States, Australia (at the ministerial level) and India (at the sub-ministerial level). After the first Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands fracas between Japan and China in September 2010, Japan and Vietnam appeared to push forward on relations “in all areas” and declared a “Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity in Asia.” In October 2011, the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding on the enhancement of defense cooperation. These agreements collectively have resulted in the consistent exchange of top political, bureaucratic and military officials between Japan and Vietnam.