Japan signs deal to provide Vietnam with six patrol ships amid South China Sea tensions
- The Japan International Cooperation Agency signed the US$345 million loan agreement to provide the Vietnam Coast Guard with new patrol vessels
- This comes as China steps up its claims in the disputed sea and neighbouring countries toughen their stance against Beijing
Japan has criticised China’s militarisation of disputed areas, as well as the expansion of its activities in maritime and aerial domains in the South China Sea, saying such acts represent unilateral attempts to change the regional status quo by coercion.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency signed the agreement with the Vietnamese government in Hanoi on July 28, according to the JICA.
Japan has offered fishing vessels to Vietnam, but this will be the first time that Tokyo has provided Hanoi with patrol ships, according to a Foreign Ministry official. The six vessels will be new and Japanese-made.
“The project will provide the Vietnam Coast Guard with financing to procure vessels, supporting an improvement in maritime rescue operations and maritime law enforcement,” the JICA said in a statement. “It will also enhance freedom of navigation.”
While Chinese government vessels have reportedly fired warning shots at fishing boats from neighbouring countries, Chinese ships have interrupted Vietnam’s oil and natural gas development within its exclusive economic zone.
The project will contribute to “the realisation of a free and open Indo-Pacific”, the statement said, a veiled counter to Beijing’s muscle-flexing in the South China Sea, in which it has overlapping claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.
Issues surrounding the South China Sea have become a concern not only for Japan – which has major sea lanes in the sea – but also for the international community, which sees them as directly related to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Countries concerned, including China, are urged to refrain from unilateral actions that heighten tension and act on the basis of the principle of the rule of law,” the Japanese defence Ministry said in its annual white paper released last month.
“China has relentlessly continued unilateral attempts to change the status quo by coercion in the sea area around the Senkaku Islands, leading to a grave matter of concern,” the white paper said.