Tokyo, Hanoi in talks over joint maritime security
Japan offers to provide patrol vessels similar to those given to Philippines and Indonesia
Japan and Vietnam are to hold talks on maritime security in Hanoi in May, with both sides keen to step up co-operation to counter China's increasing naval pressure and presence in the region.
As part of the new alliance, Japanese media reported, Tokyo is expected to offer to provide Hanoi with patrol vessels to help Vietnam improve its maritime security capabilities.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo declined to comment on the reports, although analysts here see the first ever bilateral talks on maritime security as "part of a pattern" by Japan to build ties with countries that have similar concerns about Chinese encroachment into their waters.
"This is part of an effort to strengthen security ties with a nations that share our concern for the application of the rule of law in these situations and equally share the desire for peaceful settlements to such disputes," said Jun Okumura, a political analyst with the Eurasia Group.
"Clearly the elephant in the room is China and this is part of a broader strategy of enhancing security ties with countries in southeast Asia," he said. "The aim is not to push China back, but to contain any dispute so that it can be dealt with in a peaceful and manageable manner."
Japan agreed in February to provide 10 patrol boats to the Philippine Coast Guard, with the first vessel scheduled to be delivered in February 2014.
The boats, which cost a total of US$11 million, are part of a support package from Tokyo that also includes training exercises with maritime units from the Philippines and Vietnam.
Manila requested assistance from Tokyo after becoming embroiled in a dispute with China over the sovereignty of Scarborough Shoal - which China calls Huangyan Island - in the West Philippine Sea, in April 2012.
In that incident, Chinese vessels were faced by the Philippine-flagged search and rescue vessel BRP Corregidor, which Japan donated to Manila 15 years ago.
In the past, Japan has also provided Indonesia with patrol boats worth a total of US$16.8 million. Indonesia is not involved in a active territorial dispute with China over islands or shoals, but there is a disagreement between the two governments over the demarcation line between their Exclusive Economic Zones.
During the talks in Hanoi, Japan and Vietnam are expected to underline their shared opposition to China's growing assertiveness and reiterate the need to adhere to international law to ensure maritime security.
A senior official at Japan's foreign ministry described Vietnam as "a strategic partner that shares common interests".
Japanese representatives are expected to detail the bilateral dispute between Japan and China over the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands, which China calls the Diaoyu islets.
The two sides will share intelligence on how intrusions into territorial waters are being dealt with, both diplomatically and by maritime and airborne units.