Vietnam and Japan are poised to elevate their diplomatic ties to the highest level, a move analysts say highlights the two countries’ growing concern over China’s assertive behavior in the region.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to agree to upgrade the relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership during talks with Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong, Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported.
Thuong is scheduled to visit Japan early next month, according to the newspaper, citing Japanese government sources.
Hanoi has not announced Thuong's visit to Japan.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Japan.
Earlier this month, Japanese and Vietnamese foreign ministers agreed to work together to bring the bilateral relations “to new heights,” according to Kyodo News.
In September, Vietnamese National Assembly Chairman Vuong Dinh Hue said Vietnam supported the upgrade of the two countries’ relationship to a new level, according to the official Hanoi Times.
The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry and the Japanese Embassy in Hanoi did not respond to requests for comments from VOA Vietnamese.
The expected upgrade of the bilateral ties between Vietnam and Japan follows Hanoi’s move to strengthen its relations with Washington.
Vietnam elevated its ties with the United States to a comprehensive strategic partnership during U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Hanoi in early September, placing Washington on par with Beijing in its diplomatic engagement.
“Japan and Vietnam have sympathies due to the similar territorial issue with China,” Bich Tran, an adjunct fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies., told VOA Vietnamese in an Oct. 25 email.
Japan has a long-running dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands, or the Diaoyu Islands, as Beijing calls them, in the East China Sea, while Vietnam has become increasingly wary of Beijing’s expanding military activities and territorial claims in the South China Sea, which Hanoi calls the East Sea.
Vietnam and Japan stepped up their military cooperation in September 2021 amid worries about China’s growing military influence when Japan signed an agreement to transfer defense equipment and technology to Vietnam that allows the Tokyo government to export equipment and technology produced by Japan to the Southeast Asian nation.
“Both Vietnam and Japan want to address conflicts in the seas with China based on international laws and through peaceful resolutions,” said Ha Hoang Hop, associate senior fellow at the Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
“For that, Vietnam supports the free and open Indo-Pacific framework that had led to the two countries’ bonding and supporting each other in the elements related to security,” Hop said in a telephone interview with VOA Vietnamese on Oct. 25.
Analysts say Vietnam is seeking a balance between the powers through diversifying its bilateral relations with many countries for its security and national interests.
“Vietnam, the U.S. and its allies are becoming more compatible,” said Hop, referring to the countries’ shared goals of promoting security and cooperating to realize the open and free region.
“The upgrade of its relationship with Japan at this time would contribute to reducing the prominence of the Vietnam-U.S. comprehensive strategic partnership while showing Hanoi’s policy of diversifying diplomatic relations,” Bich said, referring to Vietnam’s efforts to avoid China’s anger over becoming closer to the U.S.
Following Biden’s Vietnam visit last month, China’s state-run Global Times newspaper said “Washington attempted to induce Vietnam to play a greater role in the U.S.’s Indo-Pacific containment circle against China.”
“Vietnam has never had an intention to get closer to the U.S. and other Western countries to contain China,” said Hop. “They want to see China going with the rules.”
Biden, when speaking in Hanoi last month, said he isn’t trying “to contain China” and that the boosted relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam is “about having a stable base” in the Indo-Pacific region.
In 2014, Vietnam and Japan set up an extensive strategic partnership.
Bilateral trade between the two countries reached nearly $50 billion in 2022, making Japan the fourth-largest trading partner for Vietnam.