Japan is said to be planning to dispatch its largest warship on a three-month tour through the South China Sea beginning in May in its biggest show of naval force in the region since World War Two.
The Izumo helicopter carrier, commissioned only two years ago, will make stops in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka before joining the Malabar joint naval exercise with Indian and US naval vessels in the Indian Ocean in July, Reuters reports, citing unidentified sources.
It will return to Japan in August.
“The aim is to test the capability of the Izumo by sending it out on an extended mission,” said one of the sources who have knowledge of the plan.
“It will train with the US Navy in the South China Sea,” the source added.
China claims almost all the disputed waters and its growing military presence has fueled concern in Japan and the West, with the United States holding regular air and naval patrols to ensure freedom of navigation.
Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei also claim parts of the sea which has rich fishing grounds, oil and gas deposits and through which around US$5 trillion of global seaborne trade passes each year.
Japan does not have any claim to the waters, but has a separate maritime dispute with China in the East China Sea.
Japan wants to invite Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to visit the Izumo when it visits Subic Bay, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of Manila, another source said.
Duterte has pushed ties with China in recent months as he has criticized the old alliance with the US.
Japan’s flag-flying operation comes as the US under President Donald Trump appears to be taking a tougher line with China.
Washington has criticized China’s construction of man-made islands and a build-up of military facilities that it worries could be used to restrict free movement.
Beijing in January said it had “irrefutable” sovereignty over the disputed islands after the White House vowed to defend “international territories”.
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