Japan is sending its largest warship into the South China Sea in what amounts to its biggest show of military force since World War Two.
The three-month tour through the disputed waters comes in the light of Beijing’s extensive claims to the maritime territory and its militarisation of manmade islands.
The 816ft Izumo helicopter carrier, commissioned just two years ago, will make stops in the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia and Sri Lanka before joining the Malabar joint naval exercise with the Indian and US navies in the Indian Ocean in July.
Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei all claim parts of the South China Sea — also known as the West Philippine Sea — which has rich fishing grounds, untapped natural resources and is also a crucial shipping lane through which around $5 trillion of trade passes each year.
Japan does not have any claim to the waters, but has a separate dispute with China over parts of the East China Sea.
It is believed that Japan will invite President Duterte to visit the Izumo when it visits Subic Bay.
When asked about the warship’s visit at a news conference yesterday President Duterte replied: “I have invited all of them.
“It is international passage, the South China Sea is not our territory, but it is part of our entitlement.”
Asked if he would visit the warship at Subic Bay, the president said: “If I have time.”
Japan’s unusually high-profile military deployment comes as President Trump appears to be taking a tougher line with China.
Members of his administration have criticised China’s construction of man-made islands and a build-up of military facilities due to fears they could be used to restrict free movement in the waters.
In January, Beijing said it had “irrefutable sovereignty” over the disputed islands after the White House vowed to defend “international territories”.
Izumo is as large as Imperial Japan’s World War Two-era carriers and can operate up to nine helicopters.
In recent years Japan, particularly under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has been stretching the limits of its post-war, pacifist constitution.
It has designated the Izumo as a destroyer because the constitution forbids the acquisition of offensive weapons. The Izumo’s primary function is anti-submarine warfare.
The vessel, nonetheless, allows Japan to project military power well beyond its territory. It is based in Yokosuka, near Tokyo, which is also the home harbour of the US Seventh Fleet’s carrier, the Ronald Reagan.