Japan to deploy fleet of warships to Indian Ocean

Japan will soon deploy a large helicopter carrier and two escort ships of the nation’s maritime self-defense force to the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, according to the Nikkei and Kyodo News.

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Adm. Yutaka Murakawa, chief of staff for the maritime self-defense force, said Tuesday at a regular press briefing the 814-foot-long Kaga, which can operate multiple helicopters at the same time, will be part of a fleet that includes two other naval vessels.

The ships will leave for the South China Sea on Aug. 26, sail through the Strait of Malacca, then travel to the Indian Ocean.

The ships will be sailing until Oct. 30, and engage in naval drills with India and the United States.

The deployment of the Kaga into maritime areas claimed by China is a sign Tokyo is responding to China’s military presence in the South China Sea.

“The maritime area from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean is important [for Japan],” Murakawa said. “It is extremely important to understand the navy of each country and deepen solidarity.”

The Japanese fleet is to make stops in the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore.

Japan’s forces also deployed a similar group of ships, including the helicopter carrier Izumo, to the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean in 2017.

Japan’s defense ministry has said security cooperation between Japan and India is “vital” for regional stability.

U.S. President Donald Trump has encouraged regional powers to work together for a “shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific” at a time when China has been promoting a Beijing-led initiative to grow investment and trade in the region through its “One Belt, One Road” initiative.

 By Elizabeth Shim