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- Thursday, January 17, 2013 - From Print Edition


HANOI: Vietnam and Japan must “play a more active role” in maintaining regional peace and security, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday, in the face of growing maritime tensions with China.


The two countries, both locked in separate bitter disputes with Beijing over contested islands in the resource-rich South China Sea, said they would work towards closer cooperation after talks in Hanoi on Wednesday.


Citing “challenging developments” in the Asia-Pacific, Abe — on his first overseas trip since winning power — said the two countries should deepen their relationship.


They “should increase political and security dialogues and work together,” Abe told reporters through a translator after closed-door talks with his Vietnamese counterpart. The countries have “agreed to promote a strategic partnership (and) play a more active role in peace and security in the region”, he added. Abe, who scored a handsome election win last month after talking tough on a territorial dispute with China, met Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and other top officials.


He will spend less than 24 hours in the communist state before heading to Thailand and Indonesia in an attempt to bolster relations with the vibrant economies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc.


Dung told a joint press briefing the two countries wanted all regional disputes to be resolved “through peaceful negotiations on the basis of international law”. He did not elaborate.


The two nations are major trade partners and Japan is Vietnam’s largest aid donor.


Political and security ties are also growing as Japan seeks to shore up regional relationships as a counterweight to an increasingly confident China. Japan and China are locked in a bitter battle over the sovereignty of the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku islands, which Beijing calls the Diaoyus.


Vietnam and China have competing claims to the Paracel and Spratley Islands, and regularly trade diplomatic barbs over sovereignty and fishing rights in the contested waters around the archipelagos.


China is also involved in an acrimonious territorial dispute with the Philippines over parts of the South China Sea. Abe and Dung also announced a new $500 million pledge of aid Wednesday, without specifying what it was for.