The government plans to expand the assistance it provides for strengthening naval security capacities to nations in the Indian Ocean, sources said.
The goal is to gain support for the joint Japan-U.S. “free and open Indo-Pacific Strategy,” which was launched out of concern over China’s hegemonic naval expansion. Aid will first be given to Sri Lanka and Djibouti, which are located in important sea lanes, the sources said. Specifically, members of Japan Coast Guard’s new “mobile cooperation teams” would be dispatched to both nations sometime this year.
The teams, which were formed last year, will conduct such programs as holding drills on cracking down on illegal fishing boats using small, high-speed vessels and giving lectures on the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea and other relevant laws, the sources said.
The government is already helping Southeast Asian countries strengthen their naval security capacities. Some aid has gone to Vietnam and the Philippines, which are involved in territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea.
The rush to provide aid to Sri Lanka and Djibouti was prompted by both nations’ requests for cooperation on fighting piracy and other issues, as well as by progress China has made in building ports and other “important footholds” in these nations.
Sri Lanka leased the Hambantota Port, which was built in its southern region with Chinese help, to a Chinese company for 99 years. Djibouti is home to China’s first overseas naval base, which began operations in August.
By providing aid to Sri Lanka and Djibouti, the Japanese government hopes it can deepen its ties with these nations and prevent Chinese influence from growing.
The government also wants to involve India in its efforts to strengthen the capacities of nations in the Indian Ocean.
Japan and India hold annual joint anti-piracy exercises. On Wednesday for the first time, representatives of Sri Lanka and the Maldives observed exercises off Chennai, India.