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Sunday, 24 February 2019 15:09
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Vietnam - Japan relations: solid foundation for a new vision of development

(LLCT) - In a series of events to commemorate the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Japan, on September 21, 2018, the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics cooperated with the Embassy of Japan in Hanoi to hold the International Conference on the “Development of Vietnam - Japan relations: History and Prospects”. The Political Theory Journal is honored to publish the keynote speech of Prof., Dr. NGUYEN XUAN THANG, Secretary of the Secretariat of the Party Central Committee, Chairman of the Central Theoretical Council, and President of the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics.

On September 21, 1973, Vietnam and Japan established diplomatic relations, marking a big step forward in bilateral ties, overcoming historical differences in war and political ideology. Although 45 years is not a large portion of the thousand-year relationship of the Vietnamese and Japanese, we can be proud that through challenges and difficulties, our friendly relations have continuously developed with more effective new cooperative frameworks, like a painting refreshed with vivid lines and bright colors.

1. Symbols in the thousand-year history of Vietnam – Japan relations

Residing in the Asia – Pacific, similarities of culture have brought the Japanese and Vietnamese people together in the natural course of development. The history of bilateral relations witnesses many symbols of trade, connection, friendship, and even love. In the 8th century, the monk Phat Triet from Central Vietnam was received warmly by the local inhabitants at Dai An Pagoda in the old capital of Japan, Nara, when he visited to preach and teach Lam Ap music. In 1604, the merchant Hunamoto Yabeiji, who was also a foreign envoy from the Edo Bakufu, was adopted by Lord Nguyen Hoang. In 1622, Lord Nguyen Phuc Nguyen betrothed his daughter Ngoc Hoa to the merchant Araki Sotaro, who was later conferred the title of royal member of the Nguyen dynasty and granted a Vietnamese name as Nguyen Dai Luong(1).

From the 17th century on, Hoi An located in Central Vietnam received many Japanese trading vessels and merchants. There also remain various Japanese-style buildings with unique structures which have become an inseparable part of the Old Town Hoi An, an international cultural heritage site.

In the early 20th century, Vietnamese patriots led by Phan Boi Chau founded Dong Du movement, a political movement with the goals of “making the nation prosper and reforming the country” and “expelling the French colonists, and restoring an independent Vietnam”, to learn from the success of Japan so as to save the country and its people from slavery and colonial rule. The shared history of the two countries recorded the great friendship between Phan Boi Chau and doctor Asaba Sakitaro. In spite of language barriers and differences in social background, the similarities in their feelings, their souls, and their belief in righteousness turned their friendship into a monument of “special partnership”, a symbol of true patriotism and humanitarian love. The gravestone Phan Boi Chau and his comrades made 100 years ago to honour doctor Asaba Sakitaro is a sacred symbol of Vietnamese humanitarian value and a vivid example of deep friendship between the Vietnamese and the Japanese people.

2. Comprehensive development in Vietnam – Japan relations

On the basis of a “reliable, stable and long-term partnership”, Vietnam and Japan upgraded their relationship to a “strategic partnership for peace and prosperity in Asia” and currently label the relationship as an “extensive strategic partnership for peace and prosperity in Asia”. The bilateral ties have been affirmed by frequent high-level visits to each other. In September 2015, on the occasion of the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong’s visit to Japan, the two sides announced the declaration of a joint vision on Vietnam – Japan relations, marking deeper and more positive developments of the bilateral ties in the coming years. In preparation for the 45th founding anniversary of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Japan, various important events were held in 2017: the first visit to Vietnam by Japan’s emperor and empress; two visits by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe; a visit by Speaker of the House of Representatives Oshima Tadamori; and an official visit to Japan by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. In May 2018, President Tran Dai Quang’s official visit to Japan on the occasion of the 45th anniversary marked a milestone for new heights in bilateral relations.

Along with strengthening bilateral relations, Vietnam and Japan have also cooperated closely in multilateral cooperative mechanisms such as the United Nations, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the East Asia Summit, ASEAN + 1, ASEAN + 3, Mekong subregion cooperation, and more. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is the first leader in the G7 to invite the Vietnamese Prime Minister to take part in the expanded G7 Summit. With the remarkable role of Japan, Vietnam has also promoted the negotiations of, and become one of the actors contributing actively to the early adoption of Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) documents. As the facilitating country in ASEAN – Japan relations from August 2018 to August 2021, Vietnam has become a bridge to strengthen the cooperation between ASEAN and Japan. 

Promoting economic relations has always been a high priority and a huge success in the bilateral ties. In 2017, total trade value between the two countries reached more than 33.84 billion USD. In Quarter I of 2018 alone, bilateral trade value was 8.7 billion USD, a nearly 16% increase compared to the same period in 2017(2). Japan is Vietnam’s fourth largest trading partner overall, but it is Vietnam’s largest in the CPTPP. In 2017, Japan’s investment in Vietnam was 9.1 billion USD, making Japan the largest investor in Vietnam. As of late Quarter I of 2018, Japan had 3,700 projects in effect in Vietnam, with a registered investment of nearly 50 billion USD. Currently there are more than 2,500 Japanese businesses in Vietnam, including most of the largest Japanese corporations(3). Japan is also the first country in the G7 to acknowledge Vietnam as a market economy, a positive recognition of Vietnam’s economic reforms.

For many years Japan has been the largest ODA (official development assistance) provider to Vietnam. Various Japanese projects have been completed and put into operation to contribute effectively to Vietnam’s socio-economic development, including Nhat Tan bridge, Noi Bai airport, Tan Son Nhat airport, Can Tho bridge, Lach Huyen – Hai Phong harbor, Cai Mep – Thi Vai harbor, Bai Chay bridge, Tan De bridge, Can Tho bridge, East-West highway, Hai Van tunnel, Thu Thiem tunnel, Pha Lai thermal power plant, Phu My thermal power plant, etc. In addition, within the Vietnam – Japan cooperative framework to 2020 with a vision towards 2030, Japan has actively supported and become a leading partner in Vietnam’s industrialization strategy.

Cultural and people-to-people exchange between the two countries has also seen strong developments, with a wide variety of programs taking place. In 2017, nearly 800,000 Japanese tourists visited Vietnam, making Japan rank as the country with the third highest number of visitors to Vietnam, while Vietnamese tourists to Japan reached over 300,000(4). The number of Vietnamese students and interns in Japan and the number of Japanese students in Vietnam have increased rapidly in recent years. Mutual understanding and friendship between the two peoples continue to grow as they stand with each other through ups and downs, especially when the two countries suffer from recent tsunami and floods.

In security and national defense, Vietnam and Japan have mutual interests and a shared vision in maintaining a stable and peaceful environment in East Asia, especially in ensuring freedom of navigation in Southeast Asia. The two countries have modern opinions in evaluating international issues to adapt to a rapidly changing world. Vietnam and Japan have also had achievements in cooperation against transnational crime and in maritime safety and security.

3. Bringing the extensive strategic partnership for peace and prosperity in Asia to new heights

The aforementioned achievements resulted not only from bilateral friendship in the last 45 years, but also from mutual understanding and respect, cultural similarities, shared history, and common interests have served as a solid foundation for continuing development in the Vietnam - Japan relations with a new strategic vision to adapt to the rapidly changing world and region.

Firstly, inheriting the firm foundation for development, the two countries should continue to promote the bilateral ties, deepen the “extensive strategic partnership for peace and prosperity in Asia” and make it an example of strategic partnership in the East Asia - Pacific region, based on the strengthening of mutual trust, comprehensive cooperation, and responsibility for common issues in the region and in the world.

Secondly, the two sides should continue to promote economic cooperation and interconnection to adapt to regional integration and Industry 4.0. Japan and Vietnam should become drivers to accelerate the realization of the CPTPP, the negotiation on Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and the building of a free and open Indo-Pacific economic region. The two countries should proactively promote bilateral connection at all levels and areas (government to government, locality to locality, business to business, profession to profession) and link Vietnam’s supporting industry with global manufacturing networks, especially one led by Japanese industrial corporations.

In the near future, the two sides should strive for the goal of doubling trade and investment by 2020 compared to those of 2014; carry out the 7th period of Joint Vietnamese – Japanese Initiative, attract high quality Japanese investment and maintain Japan’s leading foreign investor position in Vietnam. The two countries need to address remaining problems, for example corporate taxes for Japanese contractors of non-refundable ODA projects, or facilitating mechanisms for Japanese strategic investors to participate in Vietnamese state-owned enterprise equitization.

Thirdly, the two countries should continue to: support each other’s efforts in contributing to peace, stability, and development in the region and in the world; maintain frequent discussion on issues of mutual interest, such as the Korea peninsula’s denuclearization, free and open Indo-Pacific Initiative, safety and freedom of navigation and airspace in the East Sea and dispute resolution by peaceful means on the basis of international law. Simultaneously, the two sides need to further enhance effective cooperation in national defense and security, especially in maritime safety and security, and join hands to address unconventional security issues like cybersecurity, climate change, etc., which are huge challenges to the overall development of humanity.

Fourthly, the two sides should continue to uphold and promote bilateral support for development. Vietnam should make good use of Japan’s support for “Partnership for quality infrastructure” and “Mekong – Japan connectivity initiative”, especially Japanese assistance in building economic corridors connecting the Mekong sub-region throughout Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam’s central provinces. Against negative effects of Industry 4.0, Vietnam should employ Japan’s technological assistance to develop new professions and areas (for example, high-tech agriculture and connectivity industries and services) and learn from Japanese experience in the building of Society 5.0.

Fifthly, the two countries should enhance socio-cultural cooperation and promote training, especially training for leaders and administrators — one of the Japanese government’s priorities for Vietnam and strengthen people-to-people exchanges, especially youth-to-youth exchanges, to raise mutual understanding and deepen the foundation for close and comprehensive cooperation between the two sides in the future.

Based on a solid, historic foundation and with significant developments in recent years, the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Japan is an occasion for opening a new chapter of even stronger and deeper development of the Vietnam – Japan extensive strategic partnership for peace and prosperity in Asia, which can serve as an example of strategic partnership for bilateral development, regional and international peace, cooperation, and prosperity.



(1) “A vision on Vietnam - Japan relations for peace and prosperity in Asia”, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong’s speech in the visit to Japan, September 2015.

(2) General Department of Vietnam Customs’ report on “Exports-imports between Vietnam and G7 and Canada in 2017, updated for 2018”, General Department of Vietnam Customs’ information portal.

(3) Bringing Vietnam - Japan relations to a new height, vov.vn.

(4) Japanese visitors to Vietnam ranking second in the Southeast Asia, vtv.vn.


Secretary of the Secretariat of the Party Central Committee,

Chairman of the Central Theoretical Council,

President of the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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