Japan woos Vietnam amid shared China concerns
HANOI, Vietnam (AP) - Japan's prime minister promised closer security and economic ties with Vietnam today, bolstering an alliance that shares concerns over rising Chinese territorial assertiveness in regional waters.
On his first overseas tour since he was elected, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is visiting Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, three South-east Asian nations that are major manufacturing bases and growing markets for Japanese companies as the government seeks to grow its moribund economy.
The region is gaining in importance as manufacturers seek to balance risks from their investments in China, where anti-Japanese riots sparked by tensions over a disputed island in the East China Sea have hammered exports and prompted boycotts of some Japanese products.
While less explosive, tensions between Vietnam and China have also been rising over Beijing's claims over the resource-rich South China Sea, much of which Hanoi says belongs to it.
Hanoi was Mr Abe's first stop on the trip, which ends in Jakarta early Saturday.
In brief statements to the media, neither he nor Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung mentioned China, but stressed the importance of their partnership.
"For Japan, Vietnam is an important partner," said Mr Abe, in comments translated from Japanese, to Vietnamese and then to English. "Our countries share the same challenge, with economies that can complement in each other." He vowed to strengthen security and economic cooperation.
Japan is Vietnam's largest foreign investor with the total investment of US$29 billion (S$35 billion) in 1,800 projects. The East Asian economic powerhouse is also Vietnam's largest bilateral donor, providing nearly US$20 billion in low-interests loans in the past 20 years for infrastructure projects.
Mr Abe, having a second stint as prime minister after health problems cut short an earlier term in 2006-2007, intends to establish an "Abe doctrine" on the diplomatic front, to match his "Abenomics"-style economic programme of stimulus spending meant to help pull Japan out of recession.