Over the weekend, one of Japan’s largest warships made a port call in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, emphasizing Tokyo’s presence in the Indian Ocean. JS Kaga, the second vessel of the Izumo-class of helicopter destroyers, pulled into Colombo harbor on Sunday.
The vessel was accompanied by another Maritime Self Defense Force (MSDF) vessel: the destroyer JS Inazuma. The crew of the Inazuma and Kaga are in Colombo for a five-day visit and official tour, intended to deepen maritime cooperation ties between Sri Lanka and Japan.
On Monday, Rear Admiral Tatsuya Fukuda, commander of the MSDF’s Commander Escort Flotilla Four, and Capitain Hideki Mizuta and Commander Yuki Ochimizu, the commanding officers of JS Kaga and JS Inazuma respectively, called on Sri Lankan Navy Vice Admiral Sirimevan Ranasinghe, who is also the commander of the Sri Lankan Navy.
“Japan’s government is promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific and this deployment in the Asia Pacific is a component of that strategy,” Fukuda told Reuters as JS Kaga prepared to reach Colombo. “Maritime security and stability is of critical importance.”
The port call and visit marks significant follow-up on a recent visit to Colombo by Japanese Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera. Onodera’s visit to Colombo marked the first-ever trip by a Japanese defense minister to the country.
In Colombo, Onodera had emphasized that Japan saw Sri Lanka as an important node in the Indo-Pacific region. Starting last year, Tokyo doubled down on its free and open Indo-Pacific strategy, which seeks to establish strategic inroads with like-minded countries along the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean littorals.
In addition to visiting Colombo, Onodera also visited the southern Sri Lankan port of Hambantota, where a Chinese state-owned enterprise took virtual ownership of a port on a 99-year lease after Sri Lanka was unable to continue servicing debts it owed to Beijing. During Onodera’s visit, MSDF vessel JS Ikazuchi also visited Trincomalee harbor, on Sri Lanka’s northeastern coast. As some analysts noted, Japan has demonstrated particular interest in Trincomalee, which has deep-water port facilities.
Laying the groundwork for the considerable rapprochement this year between Colombo and Tokyo, in 2014, MSDF chief of staff, Admiral Katsutosi Kawano, visited Sri Lanka. At the time, he had expressed interest in Japanese vessels using Hambantota Port.
JS Kaga has been on a multiple months-long deployment through the Indo-Pacific. It spent the late summer months in the South China Sea, where it joined a U.S. carrier group for bilateral drills. It additionally made strategic port calls in Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines—all of which have become important Indo-Pacific partners for Tokyo.
JS Kaga is expected to make a port call in India after its visit to Sri Lanka.