Japan’s presence in the Pacific is growing as it tries to ensure that it stays in the geopolitical race that has been seen in the region.
Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force (MSDF) conducted its first joint drill with the Tongan navy this week and according to reports this was done because concerns have grown over China’s increasing military clout in the South Pacific.
Tonga was one of the stopover destinations for the China’s foreign minister Wang Yi when he visited the Pacific.
The MSDF destroyer the Kirisame engaged in communication training and positioning exercises on Saturday and Monday in waters near the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa, along with Tongan patrol ship the Ngahau Siliva, in a bid to improve the MSDF’s tactical skills and enhance understanding with the Tongan navy.
The joint drill with the Pacific island nation came after then Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi agreed with Tongan Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni in a teleconference late last month to boost security cooperation and exchanges between their nations.
Following a massive undersea volcanic eruption near Tonga in January and subsequent tsunami and ash fall, Japan’s Self-Defence Forces carried out aid missions to Tonga’s islands, including delivering supplies such as drinking water and equipment to aid the clean-up.
Together with the United States, Japan has been promoting the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, putting efforts into pushing back against China’s maritime assertiveness in the region.
Early this month, the MSDF also conducted its first joint drill with the maritime police of the Solomon Islands, which effectively functions as its navy.
Japan was one of the first nations along with the United States and Australia that raised concerns about China’s growing presence in the region.
The incidents of May this year have led to increased interest from regional partners including Japan. Just like the US, Japan also believes that rising tensions between Russia-Ukraine and China-Japan could spill out into the Pacific.
In July, Japan issued its annual defence paper highlighting the need for its military build up to address security concerns and seeks to gain public support for a stronger military and increased budget.
The report was made months ahead of a revision to Japan’s national security strategy that is expected to include a pre-emptive strike capability.
This defence paper also highlighted the need to intensify relations within the Pacific.