The long-standing and fruitful cooperation between Japan and Vietnam is not only very advantageous in economic terms for both parties, but it also has a great potential of influencing the future of the whole Southeast Asia.
Southeast Asia (SEA) is one of the most rapidly developing regions in the world. It has a good strategic location and it is rich in various resources, including people. Besides, it is a huge market for a wide range of goods. Any investment made in SEA can pay off manifold and bring enormous profits. Bearing it in mind, the largest international players, such as China, Russia, the US, the EU, India, Japan, etc, are trying to get more influence in SEA.
China has an advantage over the others in establishing relations with SEA. It is located closer to SEA, it is not separated by water barriers and it has great finances and developed technologies that are interesting for the SEA countries. However, the rapidly growing economic expansion of China and the increasing Chinese influence on the global arena have been the reason for concern in many SEA countries, which have been wary of its powerful and proactive neighbor for quite a while. Besides, the existing territorial disputes between China and several states in the region hamper the Chinese access to SEA to a certain degree. For instance, the dispute over the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, which has been going on for many years between the Celestial Empire and a number of the ASEAN countries including Vietnam.
It should be noted that the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) is one of the most developed and influential countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and one’s relations with Vietnam may very well affect one’s relations with all the 10 ASEAN member states. Nevertheless, China would not abandon its claims. This makes the development of the Chinese-Vietnamese relations more difficult and provides a chance for other states, that would otherwise be at a disadvantage compared to China, to strengthen their relations with the SRV.
Thus, Japan has been active in improving its mutually advantageous cooperation with Vietnam. These two states have interacted closely for a very long time. Japan established diplomatic relations with the SRV in 1973, virtually right after it emerged as a state, after that Japan would provide a considerable and sustainable financial support to Vietnam in order to restore the country after the Vietnam War and to ensure its social and economic development.
Currently, the Land of the Rising Sun is one of the largest trading partners of the SRV, alongside China and the US. In 2017, the Vietnamese-Japanese trade turnover amounted to about $ 30 billion. Japan makes huge investments in various industrial, scientific and technical and infrastructural projects that are crucial for Vietnam, being Vietnam’s second largest foreign investor. Apart from that, Japan continues to provide financial assistance to the SRV in the framework of the official support of its development. It is also Vietnam’s largest creditor.
In 2009, Japan and Vietnam announced the establishment of their strategic partnership, claiming that it would bring peace and stability to the whole Asia. The parties have seen active cooperation in discussing and resolving the region’s issues, including those of security.
In February – March 2017, the Japanese Emperor Akihito made a historic visit to Vietnam with his consort, Empress Michiko. This important event served as another proof of Japan’s strong interest in building comprehensive relations with Vietnam.
Shortly before that, in January 2017, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe paid a visit to Vietnam to meet its President Trần Đại Quang, his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyễn Xuân Phúc, the Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyễn Phú Trọng and other high-ranking Vietnamese officials. The negotiations resulted in the parties agreeing to expand their political interaction and economic cooperation in every possible way, as well as support one another regarding the regional security issues. A great deal of attention was paid to the issue of cooperation in enforcing maritime legislation. It is evident that, in this case, this is about the Vietnamese-Chinese territorial dispute. It is worth noting that Japan also has a dispute with China over several islands in the East China Sea, that is why Japan understands the scope of the problem for the SRV and expresses solidarity.
The Vietnamese-Japanese relations are currently developing on a stable basis. The two states are planning to increase their trade turnover to the tune of $ 60 billion by 2020. The active dialogue continues on the parliamentary level, the humanitarian cooperation is consistently increasing. The Japanese language is becoming one of the most popular languages in the Vietnamese educational institutions. Vietnam is becoming a popular vacation spot among Japanese tourists.
In late May – early June 2018, the SRV President Trần Đại Quang visited the Land of the Rising Sun. The aim of his visit was not limited to the negotiations with the Japanese leadership on the development of comprehensive strategic partnership between the two states, it also included attending the solemn ceremony dedicated to the 45th anniversary of the establishment of the Vietnamese-Japanese diplomatic relations.
The Vietnamese-Japanese relations will probably keep on developing successfully. Any of these states would find it too difficult to compete with such a giant opponent as China on its own. Vietnam and Japan provide invaluable support for one another in their territorial disputes with China. However, the Vietnamese-Japanese cooperation not only allows them to speak with China on equal terms, but also to break free from the excessive US influence. Vietnam and Japan, like many other countries of Southeastern, Eastern and Southern Asia, are important partners for the US. Their concern regarding the constantly increasing power of China made them turn to the US for both political and military assistance. However, the situation is changing at the moment. The Asian countries reached a point in their development which enables them to stand their ground on the international arena on their own. And establishing sound positive relations with one another turns them into a considerable power that the largest superpowers in the world have to reckon with.
Now, the small countries of the Asia Pacific region do not have to choose between China and the US. The strategic cooperation between Japan and Vietnam, between Vietnam and South Korea; the ongoing increase in the ASEAN influence in the world politics; the active cooperation between the ASEAN and Russia and other examples can be regarded as proof of the beginning of the long-awaited era of a multipolar world.
Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”