SINGAPORE: Japan's largest warship since World War II docked in Singapore on Thursday (Oct 18) as part of its two-month-long deployment to boost maritime security in the Indo-Pacific.
At 250m long, JS Kaga is the length of five Olympic-sized swimming pools, and it can carry up to 14 helicopters.
The warship is reportedly designed to carry fighter jets too, but Japanese navy officials are careful to describe the ship in more benign terms, in line with the country's pacifist constitution.
"This deployment is in line with free and open Indo-Pacific strategy promoted by the government of Japan. The JMSDF (Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force) is seeking active contribution for maritime security on the Indo-Pacific region through strengthening relationships with our partner navies in the region," said Rear Admiral Tatsuya Fukuda.
JS Kaga's arrival coincides with the 12th ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting in Singapore. Freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is expected to be one area of focus during the meeting, especially for defence chiefs from the United States and Vietnam.
"Regarding the military build-up in the South China Sea, I would say the US would most likely bring it up and will probably have support from Vietnam, but I do not believe the majority of ASEAN participants will make that a focal point of the meeting,” said Yang Zi, a senior analyst at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
“When it comes to ASEAN countries, most have opted for economic growth with Chinese investment and the Belt and Road Initiative, while they are taking a less vocal stance publicly against China's build-up in the South China Sea," he added.
Tensions have lingered in the South China Sea over the past year, with US, British, and French ships conducting so-called freedom of navigation operations in disputed territories, in response to China’s build-up of military assets on islands there.
Japan's Rear Admiral Fukuda said that while he saw "many Chinese ships" during JS Kaga's deployment in the region, he had not encountered any kind of threat.
Over the next six days, the Japanese crew of JS Kaga and its escort ship JS Inazuma will engage in talks and social events with their Singapore counterparts.
Singapore is JS Kaga’s last port of call, after it stopped in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia. Its deployment ends on Oct 23, when it will leave Singapore and head back to Japan.