Last week, Japan’s air force chief was on a visit to Vietnam in what was the first publicized defense engagement between the two sides of 2019. The engagement spotlighted some of the ongoing activity within the defense aspect of the relationship amid wider regional strategic trends in the Indo-Pacific.
As I have observed previously in these pages, over the past few years, Japan and Vietnam have been boosting their defense ties as part of their broader extensive strategic partnership over the past few years. The past few years have seen notable developments in this aspect of relations, including not just ones that make the headlines such as maritime security assistance, but new naval drills, Japanese port calls, an agreement on coast guard cooperation, and discussions on more defense equipment and defense industrial collaboration.
That is expected to continue into 2019 as both countries continue to advance their own domestic and foreign policy agendas within the wider Indo-Pacific. Last week provided a sense of that with the visit of Japan’s air force chief – the first publicized defense engagement between the two sides of this new year. Yoshinari Marumo, the chief of staff of the Japan Air Self Defense Force, embarked on a scheduled, official trip to the Southeast Asian state.
Marumo’s visit featured a series of interactions including meetings with a range of Vietnamese officials such as his Vietnamese counterpart. According to Vietnam’s defense ministry, discussions in those meetings centered on affirming and promoting ties between the two countries’ air forces within the scope of their wider defense relationship, in addition to other issues of regional and global issues of interest.
Among those receiving Marumo in Hanoi was Phan Van Giang, who serves as deputy defense minister and the chief of the general staff of the Vietnam People’s Army (VPA). During a reception in his honor, Giang reinforced the fact that Japan-Vietnam defense relations had expanded in recent years as an important pillar in broader bilateral ties, and that Vietnam appreciated Japan’s help in enhancing the capacity of Vietnam’s air force.
As is often the case with such meetings, few additional specifics were disclosed about what particular forms of cooperation both sides agreed to advance for the rest of 2019, or what challenges they sought to address as well apart from new opportunities. Nonetheless, Marumo’s visit kicked off another year in one of several significant defense relationships that bear watching within the wider Indo-Pacific region.