Last week, two Japanese vessels paid a scheduled visit to Vietnam. While the interaction was just one of a series of activities in the bilateral relationship, it nonetheless spotlighted some of the ongoing activity in the defense relationship in 2019.
As I have observed previously in these pages, while Japan and Vietnam have long maintained a defense component in their wider bilateral relationship, the two countries have been boosting their security ties as part of their so-called extensive strategic partnership over the past few years. Gains have included not just headline items such as periodic maritime security assistance, but significant moves including new naval drills, Japanese port calls, an agreement on coast guard cooperation, and discussions on more defense equipment and defense industrial collaboration.
That has continued on into 2019 as well. Indeed, just last month, Japan’s Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya paid a visit to Vietnam – his first overseas trip since Japan’s official transition to the Reiwa Era – where both sides discussed a range of areas to further defense collaboration and also inked a memorandum of understanding to strengthen defense industry cooperation.
This week, the defense aspect of the Japan-Vietnam defense relationship was in the headlines again with the visit of two Japanese vessels to Vietnam. The helicopter carrier JS Izumo (DDH-183) and destroyer JS Murasame (DD-101) of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) were in Vietnam for a naval engagement which lasted from June 14 to June 18.
Per the official account by Vietnam’s defense ministry, the two vessels began their interaction by anchoring at Cam Ranh International Port in Khanh Hoa province on June 14. The two vessels, which had over 700 crew-members, were commanded by Rear Admiral Hiroshi Egawa, Commander of the JMSDF Escort Flotilla 1.
The four-day visit consisted of several other interactions as well. Among other things, the Japanese troops paid courtesy calls on leaders of the Khanh Hoa provincial People’s Committee, Naval Region 4 Command, and the Vietnam Naval Academy, took part in various exchange activities with units under the Naval Region 4 Command; and also took the opportunity to visit some tourism and cultural sites in the province as well.
Unsurprisingly, no further details were publicly disclosed about other aspects of the visit beyond these general contours. But Vietnam’s defense ministry said that the visit ought to be seen more broadly as contributing to expanding bilateral defense cooperation between the two sides as well as building trust, and mutual understanding between the two navies and militaries as well.