09/16/2015, 00.00
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As it waits for visits from Obama and Xi, Hanoi boosts ties with Tokyo to hold China in check

by Paul N. Hung
Vietnam’s top Communist leader is in Japan until tomorrow to discuss geopolitical and economic cooperation with Prime Minister Abe. Tokyo is Hanoi’s first foreign investor, and is backing new development projects. The difficult situation in the South China Sea remains a topical issue. Xi Jinping and Barack Obama are expected to visit Hanoi later this year.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, yesterday began a two-day visit to Japan. His goal is to improve cooperation between the two countries.

The main areas of cooperation are education and vocational training, science and technology, culture, tourism, employment policy, environmental protection, natural disaster preparedness, defence and security.

The meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also has geopolitical relevance, bolstering the "anti-Beijing" axis between Hanoi and Tokyo against the backdrop of tensions in the South China Sea.

In recent years, Japan has become Vietnam’s largest foreign investor and its fourth largest trading partner.  In the first four months of 2014, trade between the two countries reached US$ 8.537 billion dollars.

Japan is also Vietnam’s largest foreign donor, providing about 30 per cent of the country’s official development assistance. Between 1992 and 2012, Japan gave Vietnam US$ 24 billion in loans. In 2013, it loaned an additional US$ 1.55 billion.

At a joint press conference, Nguyen Phu Trong said that he and Abe "shared concerns over the complex situations in the East China Sea and the South China Sea". The obvious reference here is to the construction of Chinese airstrips in disputed maritime areas and incidents at sea involving the Vietnamese Navy.

Tokyo and Hanoi reiterated the principle that maritime disputes must be settled peacefully and in accordance with international law. This entails adhering to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). To enforce maritime stability, Tokyo said it would deliver more warships to Hanoi.

The United States shares the same concerns about the situation in the South China Sea. Later this year, US President Barack Obama plans to visit Hanoi to mark the 20th anniversary of resumption of diplomatic relations with Vietnam.

A few months ago, Washington announced that it would give millions of dollars to help Vietnam rebuild its Navy to counter mainland China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is also expected to travel to Hanoi this fall as well. This would the first visit by a Chinese president in ten years. It is expected after the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila in November.

For Vietnam, all this will require fine-tuning its diplomatic skills in order to avoid souring its relations with China, whilst maintaining the trust of the United States and Japan.

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