Japan’s Coast Guard and Vietnamese maritime law enforcement held their first-ever joint exercise focused on stopping illegal fishing in the South China Sea last week. The exercise marks an important step in maritime law enforcement cooperation between the two countries, which have been increasing their security cooperation in recent years.
The exercise was held in waters off the central Vietnamese port city of Danang and took place at the invitation of the Vietnamese, NHK reports. The Japanese coast guard vessel participating in the exercise was the Echigo, a 3,100-ton patrol vessel capable of carrying one light helicopter. The exercise reportedly involved a cutter that the Japan provided to Vietnam as well.
According to NHK, a Japan Coast Guard official said that “maritime authorities of the two nations will continue to cooperate to address all kinds of threats to ensure free, stable and open seas and contribute to peace and prosperity of the region.”
Japan’s coast guard has held smaller exercises with its Vietnamese counterpart in the past focusing on search-and-rescue operations. As part of its regional strategy for the South China Sea, Tokyo has sought to improve the maritime domain awareness and law enforcement capacities of regional coast guards. In the case of Vietnam, Tokyo has provided six patrol boats to help bolster Hanoi’s capabilities.
Speaking in September 2016, Japanese Minister of National Defense Tomomi Inada clarified that Japan’s South China Strategy would explicitly focus on “providing capacity building assistance to coastal nations” in the area, including Vietnam and the Philippines. Last month, Japan’s largest naval vessel, JS Izumo, joined the Vietnamese People’s Navy for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief drills as well.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc visited Japan for four days earlier this month, where he conferred with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, on regional security issues. The two countries have a fast-deepening strategic partnership, with Japan occupying an important position for Vietnam as its largest source of official development assistance, second largest source of foreign investment inflows, and fourth largest trading partner.
Vietnam is a claimant in the South China Sea disputes and regularly faces incursions into its exclusive economic zone by unauthorized fishermen from neighboring states, including China, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The Vietnam Coast Guard is the country’s primary maritime law enforcement body and operates under the management of Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense.