Japan commissions new $1bn Izumo-class helicopter carrier amid tensions with China



Japan's new, $1-billion helicopter destroyer ‘Kaga’ has entered service. 

The 248-meter-long destroyer can reportedly carry up to 28 aircraft, including helicopters involved in searching for Chinese submarines amid the deepening row in the South China Sea.

Maritime Self Defense Force commanders inaugurated the ship at the Japan Marine United shipyard in Yokohama near Tokyo. 

The ‘Kaga’ is docked there next to its sister ship, the ‘Izumo’.

"China is attempting to make changes in the South China Sea with bases and through acts that exert pressure is altering the status quo, raising security concerns among the international community," Vice Minister of Defense Takayuki Kobayashi said at the ceremony, as cited by Reuters.

The ‘Kaga’, set to be based in the city of Kure, western Japan, can carry at least 14 helicopters, the Asahi Shimbun reported, adding that "patrol helicopters would mainly search for Chinese submarines.”

Japan now boasts four helicopter carriers: the ‘Kaga’, the ‘Izumo’ and two smaller Hyuga-class helicopter destroyers.

The ‘Kaga’, whose construction costs totaled 115 billion yen ($1.1 billion), according to the Japanese military,  and its sister ship the ‘Izumo’, which operates from Yokosuka near Tokyo, are Japan's two biggest warships since World War Two.

Japan plans to dispatch the ‘Izumo’ in May on a three-month tour through the South China Sea in what could become its biggest show of naval power in foreign waters in seven decades, sources told Reuters earlier this month.

China said that it’s waiting to hear official word from Japan on why it is reportedly planning to send its largest warship on a tour in the disputed area. 

Beijing claims most of the waterway as its own, despite competing claims from other countries.

China pledged a “firm response” if Japan further fans regional tensions and “threatens China’s sovereignty and security.” 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a press briefing that, based on its own interests, Japan has recently been compromising stability in the South China Sea, “causing strong dissatisfaction and opposition from the Chinese people.”

Beijing has laid claim to nearly all of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which an estimated $5 trillion worth of trade passes each year. 

The dispute over the South China Sea involves the Spratly and the Paracel Islands. 

Beijing’s territorial claims to the islands partly overlap those of the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Beijing also has ongoing territorial disputes in the area with Malaysia and Brunei. 

Japan controlled the islands during World War II, until it surrendered in 1945. 

Japan does not have any claim to the waters, but has a separate maritime dispute with Beijing in the East China Sea. 

It has also repeatedly angered Beijing by criticizing its actions regarding the South China Sea disputes.

"China is attempting to make changes in the South China Sea with bases and through acts that exert pressure is altering the status quo, raising security concerns among the international community," Vice Minister of Defense Kobayashi said on Wednesday, Reuters reports.

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