Japan and Vietnam agreed on Monday to strengthen security and economic ties, including an agreement in principle for Japan to export military gear and technology to the Southeast Asian nation, amid concerns about China’s regional assertiveness. “It is a big step in the field of security for both countries that we reached an agreement in principle on the transfers of defence equipment and technology,” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters after meeting his Vietnamese counterpart, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, in Hanoi. “Vietnam, which is serving as ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian nations) chair this year, is key to realise a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Suga added. The leaders also agreed on the importance of maintaining peace, security, and freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, and to settle disputes in a peaceful manner, Phuc said in a joint media appearance with Suga. “Vietnam welcomes Japan, a global power, to continue to actively contribute to regional and global peace, stability and prosperity,” Phuc said.