TOKYO (Reuters) - Vietnam agreed on Friday to invite a Japanese warship to visit its strategic Cam Ranh Bay base on the South China Sea and for the two countries to hold their first ever joint naval exercise, Kyodo News reported.
The agreement was reached during a meeting in Hanoi between Japanese Minister of Defense Gen Nakatani and his Vietnamese counterpart, Phung Quang Thanh, the news agency said.
The visit to the port, which is close to the disputed waters of the Spratly Islands where China is building bases on reclaimed islands, may further irritate China after a recent U.S. naval patrol close to the man-made outcrops prompted Chinese protests.
The United States defended the action as a freedom-of-navigation patrol.
While Japan has avoided antagonizing China with similar operations, it is nonetheless forging security ties with Southeast Asia nations, particular Vietnam and the Philippines, that oppose China’s ambitions in the South China Sea.
Vietnam has allowed vessels from other countries including the United States and Russia to dock in Cam Ranh Bay, but foreign visits to the facility, which is home to several of Vietnam’s Russian-built Kilo-Class submarines, are rare.
Established as a base by the United States during the Vietnam War, Cam Ranh Bay was later used largely by Russian forces.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has also been visiting Vietnam this week.
Reporting by Tim Kelly and Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel