TOKYO — Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi on Tuesday informed the United States’ government that Tokyo plans to send defence forces to help safeguard waterways in the Middle East without joining a US-led maritime security coalition, Japanese officials said.
During phone talks between Motegi and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the two also pledged close co-operation on Middle East issues so as to ease tensions, which remain high amid a standoff between the US and Iran.
The Japanese government is currently fleshing out the plan to dispatch the Self-Defence Forces to the Middle East. Sources close to the matter have said it is considering assigning two destroyers, including one currently engaged in anti-piracy operations off Somalia, for surveillance activities off the Arabian Peninsula.
Japan does not currently expect its vessels to operate in the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow sea lane situated between the borders of Iran and Oman. The strait has been a flashpoint for heightened tensions in the region.
Meanwhile, the US-led coalition, joined by countries such as Britain, Australia and Saudi Arabia, has been operating in areas including the strait. The coalition was created following a series of attacks in May and June on oil tankers in the Gulf region, including one operated by a Japanese company.
Japan has decided to act on its own, seeking to balance its close security ties with the United States and its traditionally friendly ties with Iran, in a show of helping to ease tensions without joining the US-led coalition.
The stability of the Middle East is crucial for Japan, which relies on the region for more than 80 per cent of its oil imports. But sending SDF personnel overseas is also a sensitive issue because the country's use of force is largely restricted under the post-World War II pacifist Constitution.
According to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, Motegi and Pompeo also agreed during the phone talks to co-ordinate their steps in dealing with North Korea, which test-fired what it called a new type of submarine-launched ballistic missile in the Sea of Japan/East Sea earlier this month. — KYODO