Vietnam-Japan strategic partnership built on empty rhetoric

By Li Jiangang Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/5 21:53:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The Vietnam-Japan ties have grown closer since the new leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). Three weeks after taking office, Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang stated that Japan is one of the country's most important cooperative partners.

With widespread attention drawn to it, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid his third official visit to Vietnam in January in the wake of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc's visit to Japan in May 2016. Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko also started their "spring trip" there in late February.

The two countries have had frequent exchanges at different levels and attached importance to the relations given the growing uncertainties of the political and military situation in the region. But are they really close to each other?

It's hard to deny the fact that Japan has made great contributions to Vietnam's social and economic development, as well as the country's integration into the world.

As Vietnam's top aid provider, the second largest investor and the fourth biggest trade partner, Japan has provided a great deal of aids in educational training, agriculture, infrastructure, urban construction and environment.

During Abe's dollar-diplomacy visit in January, Japan pledged to offer Vietnam 120 billion yen ($1.5 billion) in official development assistance. Later, Nguyen simply said he hopes Japan could top the investors list when meeting with representatives of the Japan External Trade Organization.

Japan became the second country to establish strategic partnership with Vietnam in 2006. The relationship was deepened and both countries announced their commitment to Asia's peace and prosperity in 2014.

Such definition of the relationship is just nominal because there has been nothing strategic but the deepening of trade and aid, and the commitment is nothing but empty talk.

Some Vietnamese experts believed that the two countries are stepping up cooperation in response to the rising China. But, the new leadership of the CPV has ushered in closer relations with the Communist Party of China (CPC).

Vietnam's "ensuing diplomacy" has garnered quite a bit of attention in January when, almost at the same time, General Secretary of the CPV Central Committee Nguyen Phu Trong visited China and former US state secretary John Kerry, as well as Abe, visited Vietnam. It is considered Vietnam's diplomatic achievements as some great world powers are all focused on the country.

Nguyen Phu Trong's China visit, from the news coverage and opinions, surpassed the other two. Kerry's trip yielded nothing concrete, and Abe's trip, Vietnamese scholars said, was nothing special other than the consistent aid provision.

Despite their many visits, the Japanese royal family purports to play the role of an envoy of friendship. But, it is hard to say if the Vietnamese people will set aside Japan's atrocities during WWII.

On the South China Sea, Vietnam is obviously a chess piece that Japan hopes to play since military cooperation is always a hot topic on the agenda during bilateral summit talks. However, these talks have not led to any actions.

For instance, the two sides agreed to strengthen security including cooperation in the maritime law enforcement and Abe promised Vietnam six new patrol boats, which is definitely a breakthrough though it is not what Vietnam wants.

Hanoi is not poised to alter its adopted training and operational system under the pretext of garnering a few Japanese-made patrol ships which are not suitable for combat. Tokyo is not willing to offer the high-tech military hardware, let alone deliver them. Japan is not among the top 10 countries from which Vietnam has purchased weaponry.

At the fourth Vietnam-Japan defense policy meeting in November 2016, Vietnam agreed to accept Japanese warships' visits at all its harbors, and its technical and logistics operation at Cam Ranh Bay. But these are also offered to China. Hence, the "new consensus" between Japan and Vietnam cannot advance the latter's military capacity.

Vietnam has emphasized its military independence and pursued no alliance. Vietnam will not enslave itself to Japan for security concerns.

In a nutshell, the Vietnam-Japan relationship isn't that close. Each just takes what it needs.

The author is an assistant research fellow of the Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceania Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion


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