Japanese carrier drills with British warship heading to contested South China Sea

By Reuters   September 27, 2018 | 10:25 am GMT+7
Japanese carrier drills with British warship heading to contested South China Sea
British frigate HMS Argyle (front), Japanese destroyer Inazuma (C) and Japanese helicopter carrier Kaga take part in a joint naval drill in the Indian Ocean, September 26, 2018. Photo by Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Japan’s biggest warship, the Kaga helicopter carrier, joined naval drills with Britain’s HMS Argyll in the Indian Ocean on Wednesday.

Britain, Japan and their close ally the U.S. have found common cause in countering growing Chinese influence in the region that they worry could put key commercial sea lanes linking Asia with Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere under Beijing’s sway.

“We have traditional ties with the British navy and we are both close U.S. allies and these drills are an opportunity for us to strengthen cooperation,” Kenji Sakaguchi, the Maritime Self Defence Force (MSDF) commander of the Kaga group’s four helicopters said on the hangar deck.

The more frequent presence of the Royal Navy in a region is a chance for the two navies to train more closely in the future, he added.

The Argyll, Kaga and its destroyer escort the Inazuma practiced formations on calm seas in the Indian Ocean close to commercial sea lanes plied by container vessels and oil tankers. Three helicopters from the Japanese carrier hovered above, monitoring the drill.

The Argyll’s arrival in the region comes after Britain’s amphibious assault ship HMS Albion, last month challenged Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea on its way to Vietnam from Japan by sailing close to Chinese bases in the Paracel islands in a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP). Vietnam calls the waters the East Sea.

China dispatched a warship and helicopters to counter the British presence and warned London that similar actions in the future could endanger talks for a possible trade deal that Britain is seeking as it prepares to leave the European Union.

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An SH-60K Sea Hawk helicopter on the flight deck of Japanese carrier Kaga is silhouetted against the sky after a joint drill with a British frigate in the Indian Ocean, September 26, 2018.

An SH-60K Sea Hawk helicopter on the flight deck of Japanese carrier Kaga is silhouetted against the sky after a joint drill with a British frigate in the Indian Ocean, September 26, 2018.

China, which says its intentions are peaceful, claims most of the South China, including waters close to Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Some $3 trillion of seaborne trade passes every year through the waters, which has oil and gas deposits as well as rich fishing grounds.

Japan, which is embroiled in separate territorial dispute with China in the neighboring East China Sea, has yet to conduct a FONOP in the south China Sea.

However, in a rare public announcement this month, Japan’s Ministry of Defense said one of its submarines had carried out a naval exercise in the disputed waterway with two Japanese destroyers and the Kaga, which is on a two-month deployment in the Indo-Pacific.

After crossing the South China Sea, the Argyll will operate in waters around Japan, including a stint monitoring sanctions imposed on North Korea by the United Nations to force it to abandon nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, said a British government source, who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to talk to the media.

The Argyll is the third Royal Navy ship in Asia’s waters this year following the tour of the Albion and another frigate.

“Normally we hold discussion with other countries before joint drills, but with the British there is no need to, so they are easy to work with,” said Tatsuhiko Mizuno, an operation planning officer for the Kaga group.

 
 
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