Japan has been an important trading partner of Vietnam from the 16th century. The port of Hoi An close to Danang in Central Vietnam was an important trading port and Japanese ships visited this location frequently to undertake trading activities. During the Second World War, Japan exercised control over this region and thereafter relations remained dormant up to 1972. Diplomatic ties were established on 21 September 1972, but active commercial activities between the two countries resumed only after the return of the Vietnamese Army from Cambodia in 1989.
Thereafter relations between the two countries strengthened with Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) resuming in full swing in the year 1992. Since then both the countries have left no stone unturned to enhance their relationship.
As stated, the new chapter in Vietnamese Japanese relationship began in 1992. Vietnam became a member of the ASEAN in 1995. ASEAN and Japan established formal relations in 1973, which was formalised in March 1977.
Japan has consistently backed all the initiatives of ASEAN and in 1997 Japan became a part of ASEAN+3 along with China and South Korea. Further with the formation of the East Asia Summit in 2005, Japan and Vietnam became part of a larger organisation and currently both of them are active members. They also are official negotiating partners of the Trans Pacific Partnership which also includes the United States.
Japan has contributed immensely to Vietnam’s economic development. ODA contribution itself is more than $ 21 billion. Foreign Direct Investment by Japan in Vietnam translates into 2103 projects with a registered capital of $ 34.5 billion. More than 500,000 Japanese tourists visited Vietnam in the preceding year. The point to note is that both the countries are bonding very closely resulting in mutual benefit.
The current geo political situation presents us with a few hard realities regarding Asia Pacific. China has become the most dominant economic and military power of Asia. Great powers have great ambitions and China has stirred up issues regarding its claims on the islands of the East China Sea, South China Sea and along the Sino-Indian border. This has caused tensions between China on the one hand and Japan, Vietnam and India on the other. The United States with its pivot to Asia policy is attempting to rebalance her naval deployment by positioning six of her Carrier Battle Groups to be positioned in the Asia Pacific Region. Further the US is trying to form a tri lateral alliance between US, India and Japan. Meanwhile, Russia is also gradually entering this region, with arms supplies to China, Vietnam and India. In this situation, the US is looking for a more assertive Japan which could possibly handle security situations independently. This obviously calls for a stronger Japanese Self Defence Forces which can play an operational role in the Western Pacific. It is pertinent to note that due to economic reasons the US is reducing its Defence budget as also the manpower of her Army which would be below the strength that existed during the First World War. Accordingly it is obvious that Japan would have to a large extent resolve strategic issues in the Western Pacific using its Self Defence Forces with limited support from the US.