Tokyo – Japan has dispatched a destroyer to escort US warships off Tokyo amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula as the country is eager to boost its military role overseas under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, according to media reports Monday.
The helicopter carrier Izumo left the Yokosuka port, south of Tokyo, on Monday, and joined a US supply vessel off Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo, Kyodo News agency reported.
It is the country’s first such operation since it passed controversial legislation allowing the Japanese military to expand its role overseas.
The hawkish prime minister has long advocated a more active role abroad for the Japanese military.
Critics say the laws violate Japan’s pacifist constitution as article 9 of the charter prohibits the use of force to settle international disputes.
On Monday, some citizens staged a protest against the mission near the Yokosuka port.
The 19,500-ton Izumo is expected to sail for two days in the Pacific Ocean toward waters off the south-western Japanese island of Shikoku, Kyodo reported, citing unnamed government sources.
The supply vessel is expected to refuel other US warships, in waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula, which have been sent by US President Donald Trump amid indications that North Korea could fire more ballistic missiles or conduct another nuclear test.
Pyongyang attempted to fire a ballistic missile on Saturday just hours after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanded “new pressure” and further sanctions against the reclusive regime.
The US strike group led by the USS aircraft carrier Carl Vinson carried out bilateral exercises with the Japanese Navy in the Sea of Japan on Saturday after a joint drill in the Philippine Sea earlier.