Two Maritime Self-Defense Force warships made a historic port call Tuesday at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam.

The visit by the guided-missile destroyers Ariake and Setogiri was the first of its kind, according to the Japanese Embassy in Hanoi.

Cam Ranh Bay faces the South China Sea and in particular the Paracel and Spratly island chains, a source of dispute between Vietnam and China.

In Tokyo, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani told a news conference Tuesday he expects bilateral defense cooperation with Vietnam to grow.

He added that Japan will work with the United States and other countries to reinforce relations with nations around the South China Sea and continue efforts toward peace and stability.

Following the Vietnam War, Cam Ranh Bay was home to a major Soviet naval base. It has been controlled by the Vietnamese navy since the Russians withdrew in 2002, and it is rare for foreign vessels to make visits.

This visit was agreed to in November between Nakatani and his Vietnamese counterpart at the time, Phung Quang Thanh.

The plan was realized after Vietnam inaugurated an international port that can accept foreign vessels in March.

The two destroyers are expected to conduct joint drills with the Vietnamese navy. The maneuvers will be part of training for MSDF officer candidates.

Before arriving in Cam Ranh Bay, the MSDF vessels joined the submarine Oyashio in making a port call at Subic Bay in the Philippines.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea and has competing territorial claims with Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.