In Hanoi, Abe says Japan will provide Vietnam patrol vessels

Japan will provide Vietnam new patrol vessels, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday on the last stop of his four-nation tour to boost his country's trade and security engagements in Asia amid China's rising dominance.

"The two countries will further strengthen security and defense cooperation and this time Japan has decided to provide (Vietnam with) newly built patrol vessels at Vietnam's request," Abe said at a news conference in Hanoi with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc. "We will strongly support Vietnam's strengthening its maritime law-enforcement capabilities."

Vietnam already has six used patrol vessels provided by Japan and how many were in the fresh offer wasn't mentioned.

Both countries have maritime disputes with China — Vietnam in the South China Sea and Japan in the East China Sea.

The two leaders called for the upholding of international law in resolving disputes in the South China Sea.

"The two sides agreed on the importance of ensuring peace, security and safety of maritime navigation and overflight in the East Sea, promoting the settlement of disputes by peaceful means, no use of force or threat to use force," Phuc told reporters, referring to the South China Sea by Vietnamese term.

Phuc said Abe has committed to give Vietnam more development assistance amounting to 123 billion yen ($1.05 billion) in the fiscal year of 2016 for maritime security, responding to climate change and water treatment.

It's not clear whether the new loans will cover the purchase of new patrol vessels.

The two leaders also pledged to deepen their two countries' strategic partnership.

Japan is one of Vietnam's top investors and trading partners and is the communist country's single largest bilateral donor.

In a separate news conference later Monday, Abe said free trade is essential for countries to prosper.

"We must create free, fair and rules-based markets. Once again on this trip I confirm that we should all aim at the early entry into force of TPP that can be regarded as a standard for such markets," he said referring to the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact that includes the United States, Japan and Vietnam.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to scrap the deal on his first day in office, putting the trade deal in doubt.

Abe who met with Trump right after his election win last November said he hoped to meet with Trump "as soon as possible."

The Japanese leaders also said that he hoped the United States will stick to its commitment to the region under the new administration.

"This time, I visited Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia, met with the leaders and had candid discussions based on the thinking that for regional peace and prosperity, the U.S. commitment and leadership is indispensable."

Abe has already visited the Philippines, Australia and Indonesia on his trip.