Oct. 19 (UPI) -- Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga criticized disputed actions in the South China Sea during his first overseas trip after meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
Suga, who did not mention China by name, denounced actions in the sea that "go against the rule of law" during a speech at Vietnam Japan University, Kyodo News reported Monday.
"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," Suga said.
Suga, who is on a four-day tour of Southeast Asia, used the term "free and open Indo-Pacific," coined by the Trump administration, to refer to Japanese foreign policy goals in the region during his summit with Phuc.
"Vietnam, serving as chair of [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] this year, has been a key point and a valuable partner for realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific," Suga said. "Japan will continue to contribute to peace and prosperity in the region."
Japan and Vietnam have been wary of Chinese incursions. Japan is concerned about Chinese claims in the South China Sea and has clashed with Beijing on Chinese fishing boats in the East China Sea. Vietnam has condemned the "irresponsible actions" of boats violating international law, after a Chinese maritime surveillance boat rammed a Vietnamese fishing vessel near disputed islands in April. In June, Vietnamese media reported a Chinese ship rammed into another Vietnamese fishing vessel in the Paracel Islands.
On Monday, Tokyo and Hanoi agreed on closer security cooperation. Suga and Phuc signed an agreement on defense transfers and technical cooperation. Japan will provide Vietnam with military equipment and technology while deepening economic ties, NHK reported Monday.
Suga and Phuc also discussed North Korea. Phuc, who hosted Kim Jong Un during the 2019 U.S.-North Korea summit, said he supports Japan's policy of repatriating missing Japanese citizens believed to still be held in the North, according to Kyodo News.