Japan has plans to send its ‘Izumo' helicopter carrier on a three-month tour through the South China Sea beginning in May.
The country’s largest warship 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. It will return to Japan in August, Reuters reported today.
"The aim is to test the capability of the Izumo by sending it out on an extended mission," said an official who have knowledge of the plan. "It will train with the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea," he added.
The Japan’s move will be biggest show of naval force in the region since World War Two. China claims almost all the disputed waters, which has rich fishing grounds, oil and gas deposits and through which around $5 trillion of global sea-borne trade passes each year.
Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei also claim parts of the sea. Even though Japan is not one of them, it has a separate maritime dispute with China in the East China Sea.
Japan wants to invite Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has pushed ties with China in recent months as he has criticised the old alliance with the United States, to visit the Izumo when it visits Subic Bay, about 100 km (62 miles) west of Manila, another of the sources said.
The US is holding regular air and naval patrols to ensure freedom of navigation, as it is concerned of increasing military influence of China.
The 249 metre-long (816.93 ft) Izumo is as large as Japan's World War Two-era carriers and can operate up to nine helicopters. It resembles the amphibious assault carriers used by U.S. Marines, but lacks their well deck for launching landing craft and other vessels.