Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force is preparing to send its largest warship into contested waters claimed by Beijing.
Japan’s helicopter carrier, the Izumo, will traverse the South China Sea during a three-month tour of the region that will take it to Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, Reuters reports. The deployment of the Izumo will be Japan’s largest show of naval strength in the region since the Second World War.
The Izumo will head out in May and return to its home port Yokosuka, where the flagship for the U.S. Seventh Fleet, the USS Ronald Reagan, is stationed. The ship will conduct several operations with the U.S. Navy along the way.
“The aim is to test the capability of the Izumo by sending it out on an extended mission,” an inside source familiar with the deployment plans told reporters, “It will train with the US Navy in the South China Sea.” The Japanese helicopter carrier will also join Indian and U.S. naval forces in the Indian Ocean for military exercises in July.
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan has been pushing the limitations of its post-war pacifist constitution by increasing the scope of operations for its Self-Defense Force. While the Izumo has the ability to project Japanese military power abroad, the ship is officially classified as a destroyer, for the constitution forbids the development of offensive weaponry.
The Izumo is over 800 feet in length — as large as Japan’s World War II carriers — and can support up to nine helicopters. Commissioned just two years ago, the helicopter carrier is mainly tasked with performing anti-submarine warfare operations.
Japan does not have any claims to the South China Sea; however, it does have a serious dispute with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Japan is also concerned about China’s militarization and assertive behavior in the Asia-Pacific region.
China is firmly opposed to all Japanese activities in the disputed South China Sea. Last August, China warned Japan not to cross China’s “red line” by conducting a freedom-of-navigation operation.
While it refuses to carry out freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, Japan supports U.S. operations. The Japanese navy is also open to joint patrols and military exercises with the U.S.
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