The honour was awarded to the doctor at a ceremony in Tokyo on June 13 in recognition of his work advancing health care for children.
Nikkei said Liem performed Asia's first laparoscopic surgery on a child. Commonly used on adults, the procedure involves making small incisions in the abdomen, but is more difficult to perform on children because their bodies are smaller, leaving less room to work.
Having learned minimally invasive surgery from French pioneer Philippe Mouret, Liem was determined to "bring pediatric endoscopic surgery to Vietnam" to reduce the need for major procedures that leave serious pain and scars. In 2014, he became one of pioneers in using stem cell transplants to treat serious disorders such as cerebral palsy.
The Nikkei Asia Prize was also presented to Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun in the field of business innovation prize, and founder of Sulabh International of India Bindeshwar Pathak, in the culture and community category.
The prize was created in 1996 to commemorate the 120th anniversary of Nikkei's main Japanese language newspaper. Past winners include Manmohan Singh, who won in 1997 before becoming India's prime minister, and Bangladeshi social entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus, who was honored in 2004 and went on to receive the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering the concept of microfinance.