WASHINGTON – This week, in a notable regional development, a Japanese submarine visited Vietnam for the first time. The move did not receive nearly as much attention as it should, perhaps because the interactions tied to the visit itself seem rather routine. Still, the significance of the visit is unmistakable from the perspective of both countries, their strengthening defense ties and the wider regional context.
The Maritime Self-Defense Force submarine Kuroshio docked at Cam Ranh International Port in Kham Hoa on Monday, commencing what was characterized as a scheduled five-day visit. The Vietnamese defense ministry correctly noted that the visit itself consisted of the usual elements in such interactions, including courtesy calls on Vietnamese officials and naval personnel, sports and professional interactions, and cultural activities, including tours. But while the interactions themselves may seem routine, the significance of the first-ever Japanese submarine visit is unmistakable in several senses.