Sixty-eight years to the day of the Hiroshima bombing, Japan unveiled its new naval “destroyer” that happens to have a flat-top
— dubbed “Izumo” — capable of carrying various rotary-wing aviation units, reports Eric Talmadge of ABC.
The new boat comes as Chinese officials say the country is in “no rush” to sign a code of conduct guiding military behaviour in the contested South China Sea.
[S]ome experts believe the new Japanese ship could potentially be used in the future to launch fighter jets or other aircraft that have the ability to take off vertically. That would be a departure for Japan, which has one of the best equipped and best trained naval forces in the Pacific but which has not sought to build aircraft carriers of its own because of constitutional restrictions that limit its military forces to a defensive role.
The “constitutional restrictions” refer to the American-written post-World War II Japanese Constitution which stipulated — among other things — a ban on the construction of certain military equipment. To this day, Japan euphemistically refers to its army as a Self-Defence Force.
Still, a restless Beijing patrolling more and more in the South China Sea, as well as an unpredictable North Korea, have caused alarm in some Japanese citizens. They’ve been pushing for more military spending, some say for fear that American sequester means a shorter reach for Washington in the island disputes.
Japan’s most recent defence white paper covered an increased budget and mentioned Chinese encroachment directly, “China has attempted to change the status quo by force based on its own assertion, which is incompatible with the existing order of international law.”
Two of the aims of Japan’s first increase in defence spending in 11 years were, according to the WSJ, “developing the ability to launch pre-emptive attacks on enemy bases abroad and the creation of an amphibious force similar to the U.S. Marine Corps.”
This even amid the widely touted U.S. “pacific pivot” and recent news of the Philippines sending a refurbished American Coast Guard cutter to join up with another used U.S. cutter in patrolling the contested seas.
China’s appetite for natural resources is growing though, so more Americans and cutters are unlikely to deter their claims. From Reuters:
Friction over the South China Sea, one of the world’s most important waterways, has surged as China uses its growing naval might to more forcefully assert its vast claims over the oil- and gas-rich sea, raising fears of a military clash.
Japan’s new flat-top doesn’t have slingshots for fixed wing aircraft — yet — but certainly the helicopters the boat carries will help patrol what Japan takes to be its sovereign territory.
Nonetheless, they say the boat is primarily for relief from natural disasters, something Japan has had no shortage of over the last few years.
In September, China will host the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for talks on a maritime Code of Conduct regulating passage in the South China Sea.
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