Japanese Carrier Drills with British Warship Heading to Contested South China Sea


ABOARD THE KAGA, Indian Ocean—Japan’s biggest warship, the Kaga helicopter carrier, joined naval drills with Britain’s HMS Argyll in the Indian Ocean on Sept. 26 as the frigate headed toward the contested South China Sea and East Asia.

Britain, Japan and close ally the United States have found common cause in countering growing Chinese influence in the region, to keep key sea lanes linking Asia to Europe, the United States and elsewhere from falling under Beijing’s sway.

“We have traditional ties with the British navy and we are both close U.S. allies and these drills are an opportunity for us to strengthen cooperation,” Kenji Sakaguchi, the Maritime Self Defence Force (MSDF) commander of the Kaga group’s four helicopters said on the hangar deck.

The more frequent presence of the Royal Navy is a chance for the two navies to train more closely in the future, he added.

The Argyll, Kaga and its destroyer escort the Inazuma practiced formations on calm seas in the Indian Ocean near commercial sea lanes plied by container vessels and oil tankers. Three helicopters from the Japanese carrier hovered above, monitoring the drill.

The Argyll’s arrival comes after Britain’s amphibious assault ship Albion last month challenged Beijing’s territorial claims on its way to Vietnam from Japan by sailing close to Chinese bases in the Paracel Islands in a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP).

China dispatched a warship and helicopters to counter the British presence and warned London that similar action in the future could endanger talks for a possible trade deal Britain is seeking as it prepares to leave the European Union.

In Beijing on Sept. 27, Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said China was paying close attention to Japan’s activities, and opposed countries from outside the region getting involved in the South China Sea issue.