As Chinese influence grows, Japanese warship visits Sri Lanka
Japan’s largest warship, the Kaga helicopter carrier, pictured, sailed into Sri Lanka’s Colombo harbor in late September 2018, marking Tokyo’s highest-profile salvo in a diplomatic battle with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for influence along the region’s vital commercial sea lanes.
Japan has long provided low-interest loans and aid to Sri Lanka, helping it transform Colombo into a major trans-shipment port tapping the artery of global trade just south of the island that links Europe and the Middle East with Asia.
The PRC has, however, emerged as a powerful rival across South Asia and beyond as it implements its Belt and Road Initiative.
Both the PRC and Japan are flexing their military muscles farther from home. The PRC’s navy is increasingly venturing beyond the Western Pacific and into the Indian Ocean as it targets a world-class blue water fleet by 2050, while Japan’s military diplomacy is flourishing under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“Japan’s government is promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific, and this deployment in the Asia Pacific is a component of that strategy,” Rear Adm. Tatsuya Fukuda, commander of the Kaga and its destroyer escort, said in his cabin as the carrier steamed for Colombo through the Indian Ocean.
“Maritime security and stability is of critical importance” to an island nation like Japan, he added.
On its way to Sri Lanka, the 248-meter ship was shadowed by PRC frigates in the South China Sea and carried out naval drills in the Philippines and Indonesia. It also drilled with a British Navy frigate before docking in Colombo with 500 Sailors and four submarine-hunting helicopters aboard.
As part of the goodwill visit, the Kaga’s crew also brought packets of colorful origami paper, crafting flowers for local children who came to tour the ship soon after it docked.
The visit was intended to reassure Sri Lanka of Japan’s willingness and capability to dispatch its most powerful military assets to a region where China is growing in influence.
“Sri Lanka, as a hub in the Indian Ocean, and upholding its commitment to a free and open Indian Ocean, welcomes naval vessels from all our partner nations, to interact with Sri Lanka’s Navy,” said Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mahishini Colonne. “Several navy vessels from our partner countries have visited Sri Lanka this year already and the ship from Japan, a close bilateral partner, is welcomed in the same spirit.”