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The Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga discussed the disputed waters during a meeting with Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. Mr Suga did not mention China by name but denounced actions in the South China Sea that do not align with the rule of law during a speech in Vietnam.
He added that the disputes in the waters should be resolved through peaceful means.
He said: “It is important that all nations involved work toward a peaceful resolution of conflicts in the South China Sea without resorting to force or coercion.”
Mr Suga used the term “free and open Indo-Pacific” to refer to Japan’s foreign policy goals in the South China Sea.
The term was coined by US President Donald Trump’s administration.
Mr Suga added: “Vietnam, serving as chair of [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] this year, has been a key point and a valuable partner for realising a free and open Indo-Pacific.
“Japan will continue to contribute to peace and prosperity in the region.”
Both Japan and Vietnam have been cautious about China’s actions in the disputed waters.
Beijing has claimed a large part of the South China Sea as its own which has sparked territorial tensions.
Japan is worried about China’s claims in the region and has previously clashed with Chinese fishing boats in the East China Sea.
A Chinese maritime surveillance boat rammed a Vietnamese fishing vessel near disputed islands earlier this year.
It caused Vietnam to criticise the “irresponsible actions” of vessels violating international law.
On Monday, both Vietnam and Japan agreed to form closer security cooperation in the disputed waters.
The two prime ministers signed an agreement on defence transfers and technical cooperation.
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The deal means that Japan will provide Vietnam with military equipment and technology as well as expanding economic ties.
Mr Suga added that Japan opposes any steps to further raise tensions in the South China Sea.
During his speech, Mr Suga said: “Japan strongly opposes any behaviour that heightens tension in the South China Sea.”
The South China Sea is a crucial passage for a significant portion of the world’s commercial shipping.
The region is bordered by Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
The prime ministers of Vietnam and Japan also spoke about North Korea during their meeting.
Mr Phuc hosted Kim Jong-un during the 2019 summit between the US and North Korea.
He said he supports Japan’s policy of returning missing Japanese citizens to their own country who are believed to still be held in North Korea.
Mr Suga is on a four-day tour of Southeast Asia and is set to meet Indonesia’s president on Tuesday.
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