• Kyodo

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Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and his Vietnamese counterpart, Pham Binh Minh, on Monday underscored the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation and the rule of law in the South China Sea, taking aim at China’s militarization of outposts in disputed areas of the sea.

At a meeting in Hanoi, Motegi and Minh also agreed to coordinate Japan’s push for a free and open Indo-Pacific with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ efforts to promote stable growth in the region, according to the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo.

Motegi stressed that Japan has continued to “firmly state its position” to China about the South China Sea, a position Minh, who doubles as deputy prime minister, expressed support for, the ministry said.

In coordination with other regional powers such as the United States and Australia, Japan has called for maintaining a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific and opposed any attempt to force a shift in the regional status quo.

China has overlapping territorial claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which over one-third of global trade passes.

During their meeting, Motegi and Minh agreed to work toward bringing more Vietnamese workers to Japan under a new framework that opens the door to blue-collar jobs, according to the ministry.

They also affirmed the need to bring India back into negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a free trade agreement that will cover half the world’s population and roughly one-third of its gross domestic product.

Following a separate meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Motegi signed an agreement with the Vietnamese government for Japan to provide ¥11.9 billion ($110 million) in low-interest loans to improve sewage facilities along Ha Long Bay, a popular tourist destination in northern Vietnam.

Motegi is on the first leg of a four-nation tour that will also take him to Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.

The 10-member ASEAN — of which Vietnam holds the rotating chair this year — also includes nonclaimants Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.

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