BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Three Japanese destroyers will take part in a joint maritime exercise with the Royal Brunei Navy this week as part of Japan’s Indo-Pacific deployment for 2019, which will see it engage in several naval exercises with ASEAN countries over the next few weeks. 

The destroyers — JS Izumo, JS Murasame and JS Akebono — arrived at Muara Port on Sunday morning, with approximately 800 personnel on board. 

Commander of the flotilla, Rear Admiral Hiroshi Egawa, said Japanese engagement with ASEAN navies was towards realising “a free and open Indo-Pacific” by maintaining freedom of navigation and international order in the South China Sea, as well as ensuring safe maritime transport.

“In order to maintain maritime stability and stable use of the sea  — including the South China Sea — strengthening relationships and cooperation with navies in the region is getting more and more important,” he told local media during a press conference. 

“So, In this context, it is significant to deepen cooperation between Japan and regional partners in order to improve maritime security. Since Japan relies on sea lanes of communication, maritime security in this region is vital.”

Commander of the JMSDF Escort Flottilla One, Rear Admiral Hiroshi Egawa (L), speaks during a press conference after the arrival of three Japanese destroyers in Brunei on June 23, 2019, while Capt Norshahrinzam Hj Talib (R), acting fleet commander of the Royal Brunei Navy, looks on. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

One third of the world’s trade passes through the South China Sea, which is subject to a territorial dispute between China and four ASEAN countries — Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei — which all have overlapping claims in the waters.

The sea continues to be a hotbed of diplomatic tension, as countries including the United States, the UK and Japan pursue “freedom of navigation” patrols in the region, aimed at what they see as growing Chinese expansionism.

Egawa said Japan would continue to promote naval engagements that ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific, as maritime challenges such as terrorism, piracy and natural disasters increase.

“Our undergoing deployment… is exactly line with such efforts. We have contributed, and will continuously contribute to the regional peace and stability through… participating in joint exercises, goodwill port visits and defence exchanges with our partners in the region.” 

As part of Japan’s Indo-Pacific deployment, a defence exchange programme called the ASEAN-Japan Ship Rider will kick off in Brunei, inviting young officers from ASEAN countries onboard to deepen shared perceptions on maritime security and establish a network of defence professionals.