NEW DELHI: Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has sounded a clear message to China while visiting Vietnam on his first foreign trip after taking over from Shinzō Abe last month. After reaching security and economic agreements with Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, he announced “an agreement in principle on the transfer of defence equipment and technology.” In a speech at the Vietnam-Japan University (VJU), Suga also said, “Unfortunately, developments contrary to the rule of law and openness upheld by the ASEAN Outlook have been unfolding in the South China Sea. Japan is strongly opposed to any actions that escalate tensions in the South China Sea. Japan will work hand in hand with ASEAN to establish the rule of law in seas and oceans.”
Dr Yoichiro Sato, Professor at the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University says, “Vietnam and Indonesia (where Suga travels next to) are two of the most important states for Japan in terms of the collective stance of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) to the growing assertiveness of China.” He tells StratNews Global Associate Editor Amitabh P. Revi, Vietnam and Indonesia are two of the most important states for Japan in terms of the collective stance of the ASEAN (Association of East Asian Nations) countries at a time of growing assertiveness of China in the South China Sea (SCS).” Professor Sato adds, “Beijing is definitely unhappy about defence cooperation, but Japan is sending a very clear message against China’s very assertive policy, especially island reclamation and fortification in the SCS.” Suga and Indonesian President Joko Widodo are also expected to firm up a date for a 2+2 ministerial meeting on the next leg of the PM’s tour. Foreign and security policy analyst, Sato points out, “Indonesia is the other critical state for Japan within the Southeast Asian bloc, partly because it controls the three choke points for maritime traffic in the Malacca, Longbok and Sunda Straits.”
In this interview, Professor Sato also addresses questions on moving out supply chains to countries like Vietnam and India, what a change in the residency of the U.S. White House could mean, the Quad(Australia, America, Japan and India) and Japan’s unresolved issues with South Korea and Russia.