On Monday, Reuters reported that sources close to the matter said that Japan is planning on dispatching its largest warship on a three-month tour through the South China Sea, in what is being described as “its biggest show of naval force in the region since World War Two.” Reuters says their three unnamed sources confirmed the Izumo helicopter carrier will leave for the tour in May and return to Japan in August. It will reportedly make stops in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka before moving onto the Malabar joint naval exercise in the Indian Ocean along with U.S. and Indian naval vessels.
“The aim is to test the capability of the Izumo by sending it out on an extended mission,” one source told Reuters. “It will train with the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea.”
China claims almost all the disputed waters and its growing military presence has fueled concern in Japan and the West, with the United States holding regular air and naval patrols to ensure freedom of navigation.
The Izumo helicopter carrier is approximately 800 feet long and can operate up to nine helicopters. It is about the same size as the country’s World War II-era carriers.
The South China Sea is a highly contested area because both the Chinese and Japanese have claimed the Senkaku Islands as their own. Japan laid claim to the islands as early as the late 19th-century while the Chinese first claimed the islands at the end of WWII. In addition, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Brunei have made claims to sections of the sea.
During his first overseas trip to Japan, Mattis accused China of “shredding the trust” of nearby countries through the building of man-made islands in the South China Sea. He then went on to reiterate America’s dedication to defending Japan and the Senkauks Islands. In January, China said that it has “irrefutable” sovereignty over the islands.