US hopes Ja­pan navy will be more ac­tive in Pa­cific


Even as Ja­pan re­mains di­vided over pro­posed changes in the role it should play in re­gional se­cu­rity is­sues, se­nior U.S. and Ja­panese mil­i­tary of­fi­cers say they hope the Ja­panese navy may soon be freed up to play a more ac­tive role in the Pa­cific and be­yond, ply­ing some of the world’s most hotly con­tested wa­ters.

Vice Adm. Robert Thomas, com­man­der of the U.S. Sev­enth Fleet, said he ex­pects re­vi­sions headed for ap­proval in Ja­pan’s par­lia­ment will make it eas­ier for the Ja­panese and U.S. navies to co­op­er­ate more smoothly in the In­dian and Pa­cific oceans and in “mul­ti­lat­eral ex­er­cises across the re­gion.”

Ja­pan is set­ting up an am­phibi­ous unit sim­i­lar to the U.S. Ma- rines to re­spond quickly to any in­va­sion of those is­lands and is also plan­ning to up­grade its air de­fenses with F-35 stealth fighters and Global Hawk drones.

One of the key strate­gic goals for Tokyo and Wash­ing­ton is to al­low Ja­pan to par­tic­i­pate in what is known as col­lec­tive self-de­fense, mean­ing that it would be able to come to the aid of an ally un­der attack even if that did not en­tail a di­rect attack on Ja­pan or its own mil­i­tary.

“They have the ca­pac­ity and the ca­pa­bil­ity in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters and in­ter­na­tional airspace any­where on the globe. That’s the im­por­tant point,” Thomas told re­porters Tues­day. “The de­ci­sions that are pending with re­gard to col­lec­tive self-de­fense will clearly al­low the Ja­pan Mar­itime Self­De­fense Forces to in­ter­act with, frankly, a lot of in­ter­na­tional part­ners, not just the U.S. Sev­enth Fleet, in a more flex­i­ble fash­ion.”

China’s air force re­cently held its first ex­er­cise in west­ern Pa­cific Ocean, re­port­edly con­duct­ing drills be­tween Tai­wan and the Philip­pines. Ac­cord­ing to the Ja­panese De­fense Min­istry, Ja­panese fighters are also on track to set a new high for emer­gency scram­bles against airspace in­cur­sions, in­creas­ingly by Chi­nese air­craft.

Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, wary of the ex­pan­sion of the Chi­nese mil­i­tary, has been a ma­jor ad­vo­cate of loos­en­ing post­war re­stric­tions on Ja­pan’s mil­i­tary. Tokyo and Wash­ing­ton both want Ja­pan to be able to send its troops far­ther from its shores with fewer re­stric­tions and join in a wider range of ac­tiv­i­ties, from hu­mani- tar­ian op­er­a­tions to ex­er­cises in more lo­ca­tions and with a broader range of part­ners.

“There are ar­eas that we can’t now do in a seam­less way (with the Sev­enth Fleet), so we hope that th­ese ar­eas will be im­proved in the process of for­mu­lat­ing the guide­lines,” Vice Adm. Ei­ichi Fu­nada, com­man­der of the Ja­panese fleet, said along­side Thomas at the news con­fer­ence on the deck of the Blue Ridge.

He said that Ja­pan has been very con­cerned with the ex­pan­sion of the Chi­nese mil­i­tary in re­cent years. “Their re­cent ex­er­cises were also a mat­ter of at­ten­tion for us. We are not sure what the ex­act sig­nif­i­cance of the ex­er­cises was, but as part of the ex­pan­sion of the Chi­nese mil­i­tary, it is some­thing that we must watch with cau­tion and con­tinue to col­lect in­tel­li­gence on.” Thomas was more cau­tious. “The fact that the PLAN (the Chi­nese navy) and the Chi­nese air force con­tinue to ex­pand op­er­a­tions in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters and in­ter­na­tional airspace is a nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion for them,” he said. “The Chi­nese navy and more and more the Chi­nese air force op­er­ate glob­ally as do the Ja­panese as does the United States, as do many in­ter­na­tional navies with those kinds of ca­pa­bil­i­ties.”


In this March 31 photo, Vice Adm. Robert Thomas, left, com­man­der of the U.S. Sev­enth Fleet, and Vice Adm. Ei­ichi Fu­nada, com­man­der of the Ja­panese fleet, ad­dress the me­dia at a news con­fer­ence on the deck of the USS Blue Ridge dur­ing a port call at Yoko­hama, near Tokyo.

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