VIENTIANE The Japanese government said on Wednesday it is ready to provide Vietnam with new patrol ships, in its latest step to boost the maritime law-enforcement capabilities of countries locked in territorial rows with China.
On Tuesday, Japan agreed to provide two large patrol ships and lend up to five used surveillance aircraft to the Philippines, another country at odds with China over sovereignty issues in the South China Sea.
Japan itself has been at loggerheads with China over a group of tiny, uninhabited East China Sea islets.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told his Vietnamese counterpart, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, of Tokyo's intention in their meeting on the sidelines of ASEAN-related meetings in Vientiane.
Japan has already provided six patrol ships to Vietnam, but they were all used ones, a Japanese foreign ministry official said, adding that details such as the timing of the delivery and the number of ships to be provided have yet to be fixed.
Japan plans to extend a low-interest loan under its official development assistance program to Vietnam to facilitate the acquisition.
China has laid claim to almost all of the South China Sea, where about $5 trillion worth of seaborne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the sea believed to have rich deposits of oil and gas.
A court of arbitration in The Hague in July said China's claims to the waterway were invalid, after a case was brought by the Philippines. Beijing has refused to recognize the ruling.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Hugh Lawson)