The government has adopted a policy of actively sending Air Self-Defense Force planes to island nations in the Pacific Ocean to promote exchanges with them. The policy is in line with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” aimed at keeping China in check as it is aggressively advances into Pacific nations.
Exchanges with local communities
An ASDF C-130 transport airplane will make a brief stop on Dec. 7 at Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, en route to the U.S. state of Arizona to participate in an airlift tactical exercise. The airplane will deliver aid including wheelchairs and sports equipment donated to local communities by Japanese nongovernmental organizations. This is the first time for an ASDF aircraft to stop at a third country for exchange on its way to training, a source said.
The Marshall Islands were a Japanese-mandated territory during World War II. After the war, the country was under the mandate of the U.S. for a long time and became independent in 1986. Dec. 8 will mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and the Marshall Islands. ASDF airplane will deliver wheelchairs and other aid in conjunction with a ceremony to commemorate the occasion.
Three island nations in the Pacific Ocean – the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau are in a relationship of free association with the U.S.– the Compact of Free Association. The U.S. provides for their defense. As they are geographically close to Guam, a U.S. military base where nuclear-powered submarines and strategic bombers are deployed, Washington regards the three countries as points of strategic importance.
The ASDF is scheduled to conduct “Christmas Drop,” a training for airdropping aid goods including food to Micronesia and Palau in December. The Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) and the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) have already expanded “strategic port calls” by sending vessels and patrol boats to countries in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific in conjunction with training. The MSDF and the JCG conduct exchanges with those countries’ militaries and coast guards. The ASDF intends to promote similar exchanges by sending its aircraft.
Currently, the Marshall Islands and Palau have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. China is deepening its relations with Pacific nations through high-handed economic aid as leverage. The U.S. is wary of China’s aggressive approach and “strongly desires that Japan strengthen relations with Pacific nations,” says a source in the Japanese government.