Japan’s dispatch of helicopter carrier to Middle East set for Cabinet approval on Dec. 23

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The ruling Liberal Democratic Party endorsed a draft plan Friday for an independent mission to the Middle East for Self-Defense Forces ships, including one of its two Izumo-class helicopter carriers, paving the way for Cabinet approval later this month.

The draft, which is likely to be approved Dec. 23 by the Cabinet, stresses the importance of ensuring the safety of navigation for Japan-related vessels operating in the Middle East and stipulates the dispatch of a helicopter carrier and patrol aircraft as well as some 250 SDF personnel to boost intelligence gathering in the region.

According to the plan, which will be independent of a U.S.-led coalition in the region, the government will base the mission on Article 4 of the Defense Ministry establishment law, which calls for conducting necessary survey and research.

In the event of an emergency, the draft said the SDF will engage in maritime policing action based on Article 82 of the SDF law, which stipulates that troops may take necessary actions at sea to safeguard Japanese lives and property.

The draft leaves room for individual cases in which foreign vessels may also be protected by the SDF.

Operations in the area, including drills, will start later this month, and the one-year mission can be extended with Cabinet approval.

Sending SDF personnel overseas is a sensitive issue in Japan as entanglement in a foreign conflict could violate the country’s war-renouncing Constitution.

In response to concerns that the plan could ease restraints on overseas activities by the SDF, the government has decided to require the SDF’s activities to be reported to the Diet.

The government will divert one of two P-3C patrol aircraft currently based in Djibouti for anti-piracy activities off the coast of Somalia for the new mission, according to the draft.

The SDF mission will be limited to the Gulf of Oman, the northern part of the Arabian Sea, as well as the Bab el-Mandeb Strait connecting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, it said.

The government told an LDP meeting that it is arranging for the helicopter carrier to be refueled at Salalah port in Oman.

The government also said at the LDP meeting that it has asked the French military to allow any injured SDF members in the mission to receive treatment at a military hospital in Djibouti.

Japan was reluctant to join a U.S.-led coalition to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, a key sea lane through which around a fifth of the world’s oil passes, out of concern that doing so could hurt Tokyo’s friendly ties with Tehran.