• Kyodo

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Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Saturday night that he expects to issue an order in early March for Japanese destroyers to be dispatched to waters off Somalia for an antipiracy mission.

It was the first time that Hamada, who made the remarks to reporters traveling with him to Munich, has clearly stated the likely timing of the order. He said the order will come only after the government submits a bill for the antipiracy mission to the Diet.

If Hamada issues the order in early March, two Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers — the 4,650-ton Sazanami and the 4,550-ton Samidare — which are preparing for the dispatch, would arrive in waters off Somalia in late March at the earliest.

The MSDF is also considering deploying several P-3C patrol aircraft as part of the antipiracy operations.

The deployments would be made under the maritime police action provision of the Self-Defense Forces Law, which restricts the MSDF’s use of force in antipiracy operations to situations such as self-defense.

Hamada indicated the proposed antipiracy legislation might ease the restrictions to some extent, but not drastically.

A Defense Ministry fact-finding team left Narita airport Sunday to examine port and airfield facilities near the Gulf of Aden which the MSDF may use during the antipiracy operations.

The team will visit Djibouti, Yemen and Oman on the gulf, as well as Bahrain, where a U.S. Navy command center is located, through Feb. 20, according to ministry officials.

Meanwhile, Hamada held separate talks Saturday in Munich with his British, Singaporean and German counterparts and confirmed cooperation with them on the antipiracy mission off Somalia.

He also met with former Pentagon official Joseph Nye, who will reportedly be appointed the next U.S. ambassador to Japan.

According to Japanese officials, Nye expressed his appreciation for Japan’s decision to take part in the antipiracy operations, saying the decision is a good example of the contributions that Tokyo can make under its current Constitution and that he is happy to see the SDF expanding its role.

Hamada told Nye that the two countries should establish even closer bilateral security relations, the officials said.

During talks with British Defense Secretary John Hutton, Hamada voiced opposition to the European Union’s lifting of its arms embargo on China, the officials said.

“The future vision of China’s military power is not clear,” Hamada said, adding that he is concerned about an increase in China’s military spending and its military becoming more active, according to the officials.

Hutton replied that the European Union will decide the issue but Britain will pay attention to Japan’s opposition, the officials said.

Hamada told Singaporean Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean that the MSDF destroyers may require Singapore’s assistance during the antipiracy mission, alluding to the possibility that the vessels might stop at a port in Singapore for refueling, they said.

Teo said Singapore is also considering dispatching military vessels to waters off Somalia for antipiracy operations so the two countries may have an opportunity to exchange information on the matter in the future.

Hamada and his German counterpart Franz Josef Jung agreed to cooperate in tackling piracy, the officials said.

The Japanese defense minister was in Germany to attend the Munich Conference on Security Policy, where he sought to strengthen Japan’s coordination with Europe and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on security issues.

Under the SDF law’s maritime police action provision, the MSDF’s activities in waters off Somalia will be limited to protecting Japan-linked vessels, but it is envisioned that the planned new antipiracy law will enable MSDF vessels to protect non-Japanese ships in the area as well.

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