Japan's top naval officer has said Tokyo has no plans to conduct freedom of navigation (FON) operations in the South China Sea, either alone or with the U.S. Navy, contradicting earlier comments by Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada.
Admiral Takei said this week that although Japan strongly supports U.S. FON operations in the South China Sea, it has no such plans to conduct or join naval patrols in the region. Earlier in September, Japan's defense minister said her country would increase its military presence in the South China Sea through a series of patrols in support of the U.S. and its allies.
Takei and other foreign naval officials attended a Monday meeting in Washington at the National Bureau of Asian Research. Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, Chief of the Australian Navy, said that whether and how Australia would conduct FON operations in the South China Sea is a national decision, but that its Navy will stand ready to carry out any government orders.
Freedom of Navigation operations are designed to challenge territorial claims in oceans and airspace that are actually international waters. Vessels traveling through the area insist that their movements are allowed by the International Law of the Sea.
China has vowed to defend various geographical features in the disputed maritime regions of the South and East China seas, and warned Japan, Australia and others against "meddling" in the South China Sea in particular.
Admiral Takei also said Japan is open to resuming direct verbal engagement with Chinese naval forces following the scrambling of a fighter jet after Chinese warplanes passed by disputed islands in the East China Sea. He said personnel exchanges and port visits between Japan's maritime self-defense force and China's navy, which were suspended several years ago, and should be restarted to improve relations.
Despite strong concerns about China's "dangerous" expansion of its area of operation near islands administered by Japan, Adm. Takei said Monday that Tokyo's "door is open" to Beijing, whose state media outlets called Sunday's fly-by a routine exercise.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Mandarin Service. Some information for this report was provided by AP.