HANOI – Japanese and Vietnamese defense chiefs agreed Friday that a Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel can make a port call at a strategic Vietnamese naval base in the South China Sea, Japanese officials said.
With the base in Cam Ranh Bay being relatively close to the disputed Spratly Islands — roughly 460 km — the port call by a Japanese defense vessel will not go unnoticed by China, which has created artificial islands in the waters to the annoyance of other claimants.
At the same meeting held in Hanoi, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani and his Vietnamese counterpart, Phung Quang Thanh, also confirmed plans to conduct the first maritime exercise between the MSDF and the Vietnamese military.
Like several of its neighbors, Vietnam has been locked in a territorial dispute in the South China Sea with China, which claims almost all of the maritime area. Japan, which heavily depends on seaborne trade, views the South China Sea as an important sea lane.
If the Vietnamese naval base can be used as a supply base for the Self-Defense Forces, the scope of potential SDF activities in the South China Sea could expand.
Vietnam plans to build new port facilities to receive the MSDF and other vessels. Nakatani hopes to realize the port call within the next year, according to the officials.
Even if the port call happens, however, the MSDF is unlikely to undertake full-fledged patrols in the waters so as to not alarm China excessively. Instead, it is believed it will limit port calls to when its vessels embark on ocean voyages.
During Friday’s meeting, Nakatani and Thanh agreed to oppose any attempt to change the status quo by force, and that issues should be solved through peaceful means based on international law covering freedom of navigation, according to the officials.
The officials said the ministers also agreed to start working-level talks on defense equipment and technology cooperation. Nakatani said Japan will push ahead with “proactive pacifism” and Thanh expressed strong hope over the role Japan can play.