“Japan-Vietnam Defense Cooperation reaches “New Level”: a globally-focused partnership”
Xin chào. Nice to meet you, I am KISHI Nobuo, Minister of Defense of Japan.
It is a great honor to visit Vietnam on my first foreign visit as Minister of Defense. First of all, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Lieutenant General Vu Chien Thang, Director General of Foreign Relations Department, Ministry of National Defense, Vietnam, and all of today’s attendees for giving me this opportunity.
Japan-Vietnam defense cooperation is robust and has great potential to grow. Today, I am here to convey my thoughts on how we can further develop this partnership for the peace and stability of the region and the international community. For that reason, I would like to state my views candidly, including those points we, Vietnam and Japan, may not be on the same page.
Let me take this opportunity to talk about my special memories in Vietnam.My personal experience with Vietnam began nearly 20 years ago. Before becoming a member of the Diet, I traveled around the world while working for a trading company. I worked here in Vietnam for a year and a half from the summer of 2000. I ran around to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Can Tho in the Mekong River basin, Kamau at the southernmost tip, Phan Thiet by the sea, the Dalat Plateau, and the mountains near the border with China.
At the time when the "Doi Moi Policy" began to take off, I remember feeling that people and the city were booming and that the country was truly developing. And today, I am continuing to witness the development of Vietnam, which is a powerful leader in the region.
I distinctly remember an interaction with a generous and kind Vietnamese colleague. At the time, I had a dispute at work, and when I complained that "you said you could do it at that time," he answered with big smile, "Mr. KISHI, if I said I couldn't do it at that time, you would have been sad. I didn't want to see your sad face”. I had no choice but to forgive him.
The fellow was not only easygoing and humorous, but also he worked hard. We were able to read each other and build a good relationship of trust, even if we were quarreled due to differences in thinking. Vietnam, where I worked hard with many people, is special to me. This is the reason why I made Vietnam the destination of my first foreign visit as Minister of Defense.
I am convinced that it is because of the people of Vietnam that we can further develop defense cooperation between our two countries. This belief hasn't changed since I visited here as Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Defense in 2009.
"When in trouble, we help each other." This is a virtue that the Japanese have long cherished. Friends help each other in times of trouble. In the unprecedented challenge of the pandemic, and in order to confront this difficulty together as a friend, Japan provided about 3 million doses of vaccine to the people of Vietnam, with whom we have a long and deep friendship.
If we recall, 10 years ago in March 2011, in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake – which was an unprecedented natural disaster – Japan received an extraordinarily large amount of donations and heartfelt condolences from many people in Vietnam. We received warm support in various forms such as letters, writings and drawings. Japan will never ever forget this.
"Gian nan mới biết bạn hiền", how encouraging we Japanese are to be impressed and encouraged by the virtues of everyone expressed in this Vietnamese language. I would like to thank you again. And this was also an opportunity for us in Japan and Vietnam to realize once again that we share the virtue of helping our friends in trouble and how strong our "ties" are.Bilateral relations between Japan and Vietnam continue to develop. Since Japan-Vietnam relations were elevated to a "comprehensive strategic partnership" in 2014, the two countries have been developing strongly in all fields.
This extends to the field of defense. Based on the cumulative achievements of the various cooperation and exchanges to date, when I met with Defense Minister GIANG in June this year, he proposed raising defense cooperation between the two countries to a "New Level".
I would like to make this visit a milestone marking the beginning of Japan-Vietnam defense cooperation moving to a "New Level".
Earlier, I mentioned that we, Japan and Vietnam, share the virtue of a commitment to help our friends in the face of difficulties. And, like this virtue, we share other universal values that are essential to regulate international relations. One of them is the "rule of law" at sea.
What has connected Japan and Vietnam since ancient times was the vast and abundant sea. From the 16th to 17th centuries, Japanese merchants freely navigated from the East China Sea to the South China Sea on the “Goshuinsen”, Japanese merchant sailing ships, seeking widespread trade with Southeast Asian countries. The "Raienbashi", also known as "Nihonbashi", which still remains in the ancient city of Hoi An, the hometown of President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, is reminiscent of the lively exchanges between Japan and Vietnam at that time. Free and open seas have been the cornerstone of our prosperity since ancient times.
The precept that Japan continues to advocate for at sea is very simple and basic. Japan has consistently promoted the "rule of law" even at sea. Our prosperity would not be possible without the freedom of navigation and flight, and the safety of sea lanes.
Vietnam, which is geopolitically located at the overlap of Southeast Asia and East Asia, plays an important role in the region. We, Japan, highly appreciated Vietnam's leadership in the region during its ADMM Plus while emphasizing the universal value of the "rule of law". Those of us, who share values, have a common mission to protect the peace and stability of the region.
We are now facing an unprecedentedly severe reality, including in the security arena, in addition to the difficulties of dealing with COVID-19.
Especially in the sea and airspace of the East China Sea and the South China Sea, there are cases where actions are being taken, based on one-sided assertions that are incompatible with the existing international order.
Freedom of navigation and freedom of flight must not be unduly violated. To that end, it is important to repeatedly promote the importance of the "rule of law" and the basic principle of the peaceful resolution of conflicts, and above all, to put it into practice.
In the East China Sea, attempts to change the status quo by coercion continue, including in the waters around the Senkaku Islands, which is an inherent territory of Japan. The situation is becoming more and more serious, with repeated cases of vessels belonging to the China Coast Guard that have intruded into territorial waters, approaching Japanese fishing vessels.
In the South China Sea, China has continued to militarize disputed terrain, frequently conducted military exercises, and is believed to have launched ballistic missiles, escalating its actions. Japan strongly opposes unilateral attempts to change the status quo by coercion and any activities that raise tensions, and shares concerns with Vietnam.
In February of this year, the Chinese Coast Guard Law came into effect. This law includes problematic stipulations in terms of consistency with international law, such as its application to ambiguous maritime areas and regarding the authority to use weapons. The justified rights of all relevant countries, including Japan and Vietnam, should never be undermined due to the Coast Guard Law, and we can never tolerate anything that could heighten tensions on the water, such as in the East China Sea and South China Sea.
Additionally, Taiwan is located at the nexus of the East China Sea and the South China Sea, which is a key point for regional maritime security. Peace and stability in the Straits of Taiwan are important to both the region and the international community. It has been a consistent position of Japan to expect that it will be peacefully resolved through direct dialogues by relevant parties.
Furthermore, it is a hard fact that there are various challenges to ensure the peace and stability of the the Indo-Pacific region.
First, the launch of ballistic missiles by North Korea, regardless of their range, is a violation of the UN Security Council resolutions, which not only threatens regional peace and stability, but is also a serious issue for the international community as a whole. Japan is working with the countries concerned to fully implement the UN Security Council resolutions toward the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapon program – and cooperation with Vietnam is important.
Regarding the situation in Myanmar, Japan is strongly demanding the immediate suspension of violence towards civilians, the release of detained parties, and the early recovery of the democratic political system, in cooperation with the international community. Japan regards the "five consensuses" as the first step toward a breakthrough, and welcomes the appointment of H.E. Erywan, Minister of Foreign Affairs II of Brunei, as a special envoy to ASEAN. In the future, it will be important to achieve concrete results by implementing the initiative.
It is also necessary to respond to global issues such as cyber security and the spread of new coronavirus infections.
The Indo-Pacific region, where we live, is at the heart of the vitality of the world. And therefore, the peace and stability of the region is essential for the prosperity of the world.
The attempts to change the status quo by coercion that we facing, can affect not only this region but the entire international community, and should be seen as a global challenge that threatens the existing international order.
However, there are naturally limits to what we can do as a single country. It is important to utilize all partnerships to deal with this.
Above all, we need to work together to maintain and strengthen the rules-based, free and open international order, which is grounded in international law and has brought us prosperity. Under these circumstances, what we are witnessing now is that like-minded countries share this vision of what the Indo-Pacific region should be, and are concerned with and working toward regional peace and stability. It's something we're trying to strengthen like never before.
Countries that are key partners of Japan are also paying attention to Vietnam. From the United States, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin visited the region at the end of July and Vice President Kamala D. Harris visited the region in August. Both senior officials chose to stop in Vietnam as part of their travel. This clearly demonstrates that the United States recognizes the strategic importance of Vietnam.
And this year, of particular interest is the increased involvement of European countries in the region. UK Defense Minister Ben Wallace, who visited Japan in July, visited Hanoi for the first time as the British Defense Minister. The launch of the “Tilt to the Indo-Pacific” policy is groundbreaking for Britain.
In order to strongly promote Japan’s vision for the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”, cooperation with European countries – that share the ambition to uphold the "rule of law" – is indispensable. Since taking office as Minister of Defense, I have been actively working to make Europe's commitment to this region even stronger and permanent
In 2019, Vietnam together with all other ASEAN countries, announced the "ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP)" as their own path. In it, the rule of law, openness, freedom, transparency, and inclusiveness are promoted as the principles of action. Japan fully supports AOIP, which shares essential principles with FOIP. Going forward, we will continue to encourage tangible, cooperative efforts to realize AOIP, while supporting the centrality and unity of ASEAN.
The expansion of partnerships in the Indo-Pacific will help ensure regional peace and stability.
What should the irreplaceable friends, Japan and Vietnam, do in the midst of this expansion of global partnerships?
My answer is to evolve Japan-Vietnam defense cooperation to a “New Level” that is suitable for the present era. And by doing so, I would like to walk together as comrades holding hands, to fulfill our obligation to protect the peace and stability of the region and the international community.
Until now, the defense authorities of Japan and Vietnam have strengthened their ability to protect their homelands by continuous endeavors. Based on their respective abilities, we have promoted cooperation and exchanges in a wide range of fields between the two countries, and the results have brought great benefits to both Japan and Vietnam.
The Japan Self-Defense Forces are now contributing to the maintenance and strengthening of the "Free and Open Indo-Pacific", and the existence of the powerful Vietnamese People's Army – which continues to further enhance its capabilities –has become essential to maintain peace and stability in the region. In light of the stark reality of the security environment surrounding us, our cooperation must aim for further heights.
In other words, in the spirit of "when in trouble, we help each other" and "Gian nan mới biết bạn hiền", we are friends who give our hands to other friends facing difficulties in this region and in the international community. We should say that we have entered that stage.
Here today, I would like to "redefine" that Japan and Vietnam defense cooperation aims to contribute more positively to the peace and stability of, not just our two countries, but to the region and the international community. This is the intent of Japan-Vietnam defense cooperation in the "new stage" I mentioned earlier.
Both Japan and Vietnam will cooperate to address various security issues in the region while emphasizing the "rule of law". We will work closely not only bilaterally, but also with regional countries and ASEAN for the benefit of all countries. We would like to provide a lasting peace of mind to the local and international community. For Japan, it should be said that Vietnam is one of the important countries with whom we are sharing the same boat
With cooperation reaching this "new level," let's strengthen Japan-Vietnam defense cooperation even further while shifting our attention to the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific and the world.
Now we have a new tool for that. It is the Japan-Vietnam Defense Equipment and Technology Transfer Agreement signed yesterday.
In the future, under this agreement, we will accelerate discussions toward the realization of tangible equipment transfers, such as cooperation in the field of vessels that contribute to regional maritime security.
And we will expand the scope of cooperation to unprecedented fields and new domains.
For example, responding to threats in cyberspace is an urgent global security challenge. Last December, I announced efforts to improve cyber security capabilities with ASEAN countries. We will work closely with Vietnam to improve cybersecurity in the region so that this initiative will serve as a model case for Japan-Vietnam ASEAN defense cooperation at the "new level."
The global spread of coronavirus infections has also had a major impact on security. At the Japan-Vietnam Defense Ministers’ teleconference in November last year, we agreed to promote cooperation in the field of infectious disease control.
In light of these developments, the defense authorities of Japan and Vietnam will continue to coordinate the signing of a memorandum of understanding in these two important fields, in order to promote cooperation in the fields of cyber security and military medicine.
United Nations peacekeeping operations are also a field in which Japan-Vietnam cooperation is remarkable. In order to improve the capacity of PKO personnel, Japan launched the United Nations Triangular Partnership Project (UNTPP) with the United Nations in 2015. So far, the Japan Ministry of Defense and the Self-Defense Forces have dispatched a total of about 230 instructors, and trained about 360 personnel – from 17 countries in Asia and Africa – for UN missions.
Since 2018, with the full cooperation of the People's Army of Vietnam, Japan Self-Defense Forces instructors have been training personnel from Asian countries here in Hanoi, and under the banner of the United Nations. Such cooperation between Japan and Vietnam strongly supports UN peacekeeping operations.
In addition, Japan and Vietnam have been co-chairing the ADMM Plus Experts’ Working Group on PKO since this year, and held their first meeting in April. Over the next three years, we will lead constructive discussions between participating countries and PKO experts.
This kind of cooperation between our two countries shows the strong will we both share to actively contribute to the peace and stability of the international community. We will continue to promote further cooperation in the future.
Today, I have a grand and ambitious vision of Japan-Vietnam defense cooperation at a "new stage." Some of you who have heard this aspiration may wonder, "Is it really possible?"
But I'm very convinced. With the steadfast Vietnamese people I know, I am sure that I will be able to overcome many challenges and achieve this immense and lofty goal.
Today, as partnerships that are stronger than ever expand in the Indo-Pacific region, Japan and Vietnam will work together to foster positive outcomes. Furthermore, in cooperation with associated countries, we will work together to address common issues, and to contribute to peace and stability in the region and the international community.