Tokyo: Japan will send a large helicopter carrier to the South China Sea and Indian Ocean for a second straight year as it looks to bolster its presence in the strategic maritime region with annual tours, two Japanese officials said.
“This is part Japan’s efforts to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said one of the officials, who has direct knowledge of the plan for a two-month tour beginning in September.
The 248 metre-long (814 ft) Kaga, which can operate several helicopters simultaneously, will make stops in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and at ports in India and Sri Lanka, said the sources who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
The Kaga, which will be accompanied by an escort ship, may also conduct ad hoc joint drills with warships from other counties in the region, they said. Japan last year sent its sister ship, the Izumo, on a similar tour of the contested South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.
A spokesman for Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force said he was unable to comment on future operations. Japan’s growing visibility in those waters reflects concern it shares with the United States over China’s military presence in a region through which trade routes pass that are vital to the Japanese and US economies.
China, which says its intentions are peaceful, claims most of the South China and has built bases on reefs and shoals it has reclaimed. China has also increased naval operations in the Indian Ocean. The United States holds regular air and naval patrols in the South China Sea, saying it has to ensure freedom of navigation.