The Marriage of Convenient

Of all the countries celebrating four decades of diplomatic ties with Vietnam this year, Japan may be the most significant. Derek Milroy probes further into the reasons why Japan is so keen to have Vietnam as a staunch ally and vice versa


With tensions in Northeast Asia rising, Japanese companies are looking south as they ponder their next overseas move — and many are convinced that Vietnam is their number one choice.

Vietnam is now Japan’s top ally in Asia. If that wasn’t evident before, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s trip to Vietnam in February — his first trip abroad after taking office — confirmed it.

Japan is Vietnam’s third largest business partner with two-way trade turnover reaching nearly US$25 billion (VND525 trillion) in 2012. By the end of last year, the country ranked first among countries and territories investing in Vietnam, with over 1,800 projects with a total registered capital of US$29 billion (VND609 trillion).

With these figures it is evident that bilateral relations are important for both nations, bringing about a marriage of convenience. Vietnam needs Japanese investment and Japan needs Vietnam as a base for its vast capital resources. Domestically, Japan still hasn’t fully recovered from the disasters of March 2011, and economic conditions are still weak.

Japan is attracted to Vietnam’s cheap labour and the fact that — despite the economic downtown — growth in Vietnam is still measured at about 5.5 percent yearly. It is a happy marriage.

The natural disasters and nuclear fallout that crippled Japan also brought both nations together with many close ties formed during this time. Vietnamese firms and citizens alike offered help to their Asian neighbour during this most testing of periods.


A Diplomatic View

We tracked down Harumitsu Hida, Consul General of Japan, to ask him how important this year’s celebrations marking Japan-Vietnam diplomatic relations are in light of this increased closeness.

He says that since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1973, the countries have worked together to consistently strengthen ties and steadily deepen their friendship.

In February, at the beginning of this commemorative 12 months named ‘Japan-Vietnam Friendship Year’, Vietnam was graced by the visit of Prime Minister Abe.

“I believe that it has impressed on the people of both countries how important and amicable the relationship between Japan and Vietnam was [and is],” says Hida. “At the meeting [of the two prime ministers], both sides agreed to further strengthen people-to-people exchanges, taking the opportunity of the Japan-Vietnam Friendship Year.”

The consul general explains that in terms of people-to-people exchanges, “friendship” has been nurtured in a natural way, by bringing intimacy to a higher level than merely that of one experienced between one Asian nation and another. Instead the countries have developed the respect and trust vital for a long-term and fruitful relationship.

“I deem it my responsibility as well as my wish to pass this friendship between Japan and Vietnam onto the next generation,” he says.
Hida insists it is fated for 2013 to be the friendship year, which Japan has spent many years preparing for, at a time when relations between both nations could be not be any better or more productive.

His office will offer opportunities in a wide range of fields to promote work exchanges and help Vietnamese people learn more about Japan. Events, which were held or will be held in and around Ho Chi Minh City include food, sports and music events, cultural and art projects.

He adds: “I will continue to make efforts to deepen the trusting relationship among peoples of the two countries and encourage them to build up a ‘best friend’ relationship on the occasion of Japan-Vietnam Friendship Year.”


Disaster Prevention and Management

Film Screenings about the Great East Japan Earthquake, September

An event to introduce reconstruction achievements after the Great East Japan Earthquake and to express Japanese people’s gratitude for the support given by the Vietnamese people. Details to be confirmed.


Disaster Management Seminar, September

To introduce Japan’s disaster management technology and knowhow in preparation for any future natural disasters in
Ho Chi Minh City. Details to be confirmed.


Sports Events


Japan-Vietnam Friendship Football Match, Jun. 1

J-League stars Kawasaki Frontale will face V-League side Becamex Binh Duong FC as part of an event that includes the Japanese summer festival Natsumatsuri at Go Dau Stadium (Thu Dau Mot City, Binh Duong Province)


Kids Football School,Jun. 17

Presented by Kawasaki Frontale, 60 invited primary school children from Japan and Vietnam are given a chance to have football lessons from professional players of the Japanese football club at Dong Nai Indoor Stadium.


Music Events


Piano Recital by Nobuyuki Tsujii,Jun. 21

One of the most famous pianists worldwide, Tsujii was a joint Gold Medal winner at the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, despite being blind since birth. He performs at Ho Chi Minh City Conservatory Museum (112 Nguyen Du, Q1).


Jazz Concert by Unit Asia, Jul. 14

Unit Asia consists of three Japanese members, one Thai and one Malaysian, all distinguished musicians who have developed a reputation in Japan and Asia-wide. At Ben Thanh Theatre (6 Mac Dinh Chi, Q1).


Cultural Events


Haiku Contest, November

The event will be co-organized by Tuoi Tre, with categories split into Japanese Haiku and Vietnamese Haiku. Details to be confirmed.


Katazome Exhibition by Mika Toba, Nov. 23 to Dec. 15

Katazome is a traditional Japanese dyeing method and Mika Toba is a top katazome artist. She has been visiting Vietnam annually and creating katazome works with Vietnamese scenery as a motif since her first visit in 1994. From 2003 to 2004, the exhibition Katazome and Vietnamese Scenery: Ten Years’ Reminiscence was held in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in commemoration of the 30th Anniversary of Japan-Vietnam diplomatic relations. This time she is featured at the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts University (Phan Dang Luu, Binh Thanh).


Food Events


Japan Day, Jun. 20

Professional Japanese chefs will demonstrate how to cook beautiful and traditional Japanese food. Apart from that, there is also an introduction
to sado tea ceremonies, furoshiki, a karaoke contest, and traditional music at the Sheraton Hotel (88 Dong Khoi, Q1).

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