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Asia's Game of Thrones
Vietnam Tests Relations with Japan

With leaders in both Japan and Vietnam concerned about China’s behavior in the South China Sea, the two countries are looking to improve relations. Just as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Vietnam wrapped up today, Japan announced Hanoi had asked Tokyo to participate in joint military drills. Reuters reports:

Vietnam agreed to build a “truly trustworthy” relationship with China on Friday during a visit to Hanoi by its President Xi Jinping, but at the same time invited Beijing’s old rival Japan for joint military exercises and a visit to a sought-after port.

The diplomatic flurry highlights the fragility of China’s testy ties with its communist neighbor, and Vietnam’s efforts to diversity its relations through new alliances with states locked in bitter disputes with Beijing over its maritime expansionism.

Vietnam and China’s competing territorial claims mushroomed into a major dispute last year, which Xi aimed to settle on a timely visit close to a scheduled shakeup of a Vietnamese Communist Party leadership increasingly being courted by the United States.

The effects of last week’s U.S. freedom of navigation exercises are becoming easier and easier to discern. First, we saw the collapse of ASEAN talks because of members’ frustration with China. Yesterday, Malaysia’s Defense Minister smiled for the cameras aboard a U.S. carrier with Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. Now, Vietnam and Japan are looking to strengthen military ties.

Any of these developments could have occurred without the freedom of navigation exercises, of course, but it does look like we are starting to see a more confident attitude from countries concerned about Chinese regional dominance.

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