The Izumo helicopter carrier, Japan’s largest warship, is set to navigate the disputed South China Sea in a move that has been dubbed the largest show of naval force the region has seen since the end of World War II.
According to three sources familiar with the matter, who spoke with Reuters on condition of anonymity, the voyage is scheduled to launch in May for a three-month duration.
One source said Izumo will make stops in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka before joining the Malabar joint naval exercise with Indian and U.S. naval vessels in the Indian Ocean in July.
“The aim is to test the capability of the Izumo by sending it out on an extended mission,” said one of the sources. “It will train with the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea.”
A spokesman for Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force gave reporters no comment.
Although Japan has no contested claim anywhere in the South China Sea, it does have a dispute with China in the East China Sea. As for the former, Beijing remains at odds with Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei. Still, China claims virtually the entire region. In January, the Chinese government maintained it holds “irrefutable” sovereignty over these waters. Washington vowed to keep defending freedom to navigate “international territories” – a move championed by former President Barack Obama who often sent warships into the region to uphold these doctrines.
The South China Sea is home to significant fishing grounds as well as oil and gas deposits. Every year, about $5 trillion worth of sea-borne trade passes through these waters.
The 249 meter-long (816.93 ft) Izumo is as large as Japan’s World War Two-era carriers and can hold up to nine helicopters. Its specialty is anti-submarine warfare.