Japan is continuing to strengthen ties with Southeast Asian countries, upgrading relations with Vietnam on Monday in a move that will pave the way for greater cooperation in areas such as trade and security as Tokyo seeks to counterbalance China’s growing footprint in the region.

At a summit in Tokyo marking 50 years of diplomatic ties, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong agreed to elevate the relationship to a “comprehensive strategic partnership.” The move makes Japan one of Vietnam's top-tier partners, along with the United States, China, Russia, South Korea and India.

In a joint statement, the two sides vowed to ramp up cooperation to “new heights” and further expand it to “new fronts,” including in the fields of economic security, energy, digital transformation, people-to-people exchanges and regional security, with Kishida calling Hanoi “a key partner in achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific.”