Earlier this week, Japan announced plans to send its largest warship on a three month cruise through the disputed waters of the South China Sea and on to the Indian Ocean. According to Reuters, the trip will include exercises with the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea…we have more from Neal Conan in Today’s Pacific News Minute.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, and, in the past, it’s objected bitterly to the idea of Japanese warships in those waters. But a foreign ministry spokeswoman reacted cautiously this week. There would be no problem if J.S. Izumo passed normally through the area, but Hua Chunying said if Japan had other intentions, “that should be regarded as another matter.”
The Reuters news agency reported that the helicopter carrier will make port stops in Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines. All of which would come under the definition of normal transit. But Reuters also quoted a source who said the Japanese ship will train with the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea. And that depending on what those ships do and where they do it, could be another matter.
The Obama administration encouraged both Japan and Australia to join the U.S. Navy’s Freedom of Navigation patrols to challenge China’s claims. Australia has sent aircraft into disputed areas, but neither country has sent the much louder message that a warship would convey.
In a speech in Singapore on Monday, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said many countries in Asia were in a “strategic holding pattern” as they wait to see how much President Trump will commit to the region. And Bishop called on the U.S. to “play an even greater role as the indispensable strategic power in the Indo-Pacific.”