Japan, Thailand sign defense deal amid China tensions

Japan, Thailand sign defense deal amid China tensions

Japan and Thailand have signed an agreement on Monday enabling the transfer of defense equipment and technology, deepening their bilateral security cooperation amid the growing clout of an assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida and Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha also agreed during their summit to work closely in extending humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and its neighbors, as Russia's invasion of February has sent more than 5.5 million people fleeing the war-torn country.

In order to help Thailand recover from the COVID 19 epidemic, Kishida announced that Japan will give around 50 billion $385 million in loans and 500 million in grant aid to strengthen the quarantine regime in the Southeast Asian nation, a hub of Japanese corporate activities in the region.

Japan is trying to promote its vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region in order to counter China's growing influence, as a result of deepening ties with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The two leaders agreed to continue coordination to achieve that goal during the summit.

Kishida said in a joint news conference with Prayut that the signing of our defense equipment and technology transfer agreement is a major step forward in the expansion of bilateral defense cooperation. He said that Japan and Thailand will decide on specific equipment for transfer from now onwards.

Prayut expressed hope that the pact will promote Japanese investment in the Thai defense industry, adding that the two leaders agreed on the need for bilateral relations to be elevated to comprehensive strategic partners. Japan already has such deals with other ASEAN members, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Thailand is the third Southeast Asian country after Indonesia and Vietnam in Kishida's tour of the region as he tries to coordinate efforts with his counterparts to respond to the crisis in Ukraine.

Prime Minister Prayut and I agreed that we will not tolerate any infringement of sovereignty and territorial integrity in any region, any attempt to change the status quo by force, and we are opposed to the threat by or use of weapons of mass destruction, Kishida said.

Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, have been cautious about joining efforts led by the Group of Seven nations to isolate Russia economically and diplomatically in response to its aggression.

Thailand is chair of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum this year, which Russia is also a member of, as it contributes to Bangkok's neutral stance towards Moscow and its invasion of Ukraine.

Thailand abstained in a vote last month to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.

Kishida stressed the need to keep communicating with other Asian nations that can't take the same action as the G 7, including Japan and the United States. The G 7 has imposed a slew of sanctions to punish Moscow.

In Indonesia, Kishida and President Joko Widodo agreed on Friday on the importance of upholding a rules-based order amid Russian aggression in Ukraine.

The Indonesian president did not single out Russia in a joint press appearance.

Vietnam, which announced humanitarian assistance to Ukraine through international organizations, relied on Russia for military equipment.

In Monday's summit, Kishida and Prayut agreed to coordinate over regional issues, including the situation in Myanmar after a coup in 2021 and North Korea's missile and nuclear development.

Kishida's eight-day trip through Friday will take him to Italy and Britain.