Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida made an unprecedented announcement during his visit to Vietnam – one that may serve to heighten tensions in the region. While in Hanoi for talks with his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Bunh Minh, Minister Kishida announced that Japan would bestow a gift of six naval ships to aid Vietnam in “maintaining peace and stability” in the region. These naval ships are expressly for patrolling the South China Sea, a region embroiled in territorial disputes.
The used vessels are reportedly valued at approximately USD $5 million (500 million yen), and include training and equipment necessary to conduct Vietnamese coastal enforcement and fisheries surveillance missions. According to Kyodo News, two of the six vessels are fishery patrol boats of the Fisheries Agency, while four are commercial fishing boats. The vessels and equipment are to be handed over to Vietnam by the end of the year.
Kishida emphasized the importance of stability in the region during a news conference in Hanoi, stating “…prosperity only comes with stability in the South China Sea and East China Sea.” The transfer of these vessels marks an increase in security ties between Vietnam and Japan, following increasingly aggressive behavior by the Chinese. Business ties between the two nations are already strong, with Japan being a leading investor in Vietnam.
Relations with Vietnam and China have suffered since Beijing deployed the HD-981 drilling rig, owned by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), in early May to disputed waters near the Paracel Islands. Vietnam claims the waters as within its exclusive economic zone and the reaction marked a low point in Sino-Vietnamese relations. A series of incidents ranged from the ramming of Vietnamese fishing boats by Chinese vessels to protests and rioting of Chinese factories in Vietnam. The rig was eventually removed in mid-July, about a month earlier than scheduled.
China recently commenced live-fire maritime drills in both the East China Sea and Gulf of Tonkin. While part of an annual exercise, this year’s drills seem to have a larger scope and may serve to further escalate tensions within the region.