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Japan and Vietnam defense ministers agree to peacefully tackle Beijing's South China Sea expansion

JIJI, Kyodo

Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya and his Vietnamese counterpart, Ngo Xuan Lich, confirmed Thursday that the two countries will work together to peacefully resolve the issue of China’s rapid expansion in the South China Sea.

Meeting with Vietnam’s minister of defense in Hanoi, Iwaya also stressed the importance of steadily implementing U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions against North Korea to realize the country’s denuclearization.

Iwaya asked for Vietnam’s support in resolving North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals decades ago.

Lich indicated Vietnam’s readiness to cooperate on the denuclearization issue.

“Japan hopes to further deepen ties with Vietnam in the era of Reiwa,” Iwaya said at the outset of talks with Lich, referring to the nation’s new imperial era under Emperor Naruhito, who ascended the throne Wednesday.

Lich expressed his congratulations over the succession, and told Iwaya that he hopes his visit to Vietnam will “contribute to pushing bilateral defense ties to a new stage.”

In line with Iwaya’s visit to Vietnam, the two countries’ defense authorities exchanged a memorandum of understanding stipulating the two governments’ intention to call for cooperation between the Japanese and Vietnamese defense industries.

Based on the MOU, cooperation is likely to be promoted in fields such as maritime security, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and cybersecurity, sources with knowledge of the matter said.

Tensions remain high in the South China Sea, with China pushing its claims to almost the entire body of water — a vital shipping lane with rich fishing grounds and possibly large oil and natural gas deposits. Vietnam as well as Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan claim parts of the waters.

During the talks, Iwaya explained Japan’s latest national defense guidelines that were endorsed in December last year, which called China’s military activities in the South China Sea and surrounding waters “a serious security concern for the region including Japan and for the international community.”

Japan is locked in a territorial dispute with China in the East China Sea over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which China calls Diaoyu.

The discussions in the Vietnamese capital were the first official talks between the two countries’ defense ministers since June last year.