Japan, Vietnam express serious concern about South China Sea

Vietnam's Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pose for a photo after a news conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Tokyo, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, Pool)

TOKYO – The leaders of Japan and Vietnam expressed serious concern about the situation in the South China Sea and any unilateral actions aimed at altering the status quo, and agreed to work together to sustain free and open sea lanes as tensions escalate in the region amid China’s rise.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh was the first foreign leader to visit Japan for talks with new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who took office in October.

The two leaders “expressed serious concerns about the situation in the South China Sea and any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions,” they said in a joint statement.

China, which claims most of the South China Sea as well as Japanese-held islands in the East China Sea, says it has the right to defend its sovereignty, security and development interests.

Japanese officials say Chinese vessels routinely violate Japanese territorial waters near the East China Sea islands, sometimes threatening fishing boats.

The two countries also confirmed a range of partnerships in areas such as COVID-19, infrastructure and climate change. Japan will also support a strengthening of Vietnam’s maritime law enforcement capabilities by accelerating aid for construction of patrol vessels.

Vietnam is the 11th nation with which Japan has signed a defense equipment and technology transfer deal as Tokyo seeks to support its own struggling defense industry.