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New defense chief Tomomi Inada meets SDF personnel engaged in anti-piracy mission off Somalia

Kyodo

New Defense Minister Tomomi Inada visited Djibouti in eastern Africa on Monday to meet with Self-Defense Forces personnel engaged in the anti-piracy mission off Somalia.

“The sea transportation security (situation) continues to require caution. It is essential to steadily implement counterpiracy measures,” Inada said in her remarks to the personnel, signaling her intention to continue SDF involvement in the mission in the Gulf of Aden, a key shipping lane.

Japan has sent Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers and P-3C patrol aircraft to participate in multinational anti-piracy operations in the waters off Somalia. It has also set up an air base in Djibouti for the mission.

Inada told reporters later that the SDF is playing “a very important role” and that she wants to consider ways to reinforce Japanese activities. Inada chose the tiny African country as the destination of her first overseas trip since becoming defense chief in a Cabinet reshuffle on Aug. 3.

SDF personnel have been engaging in anti-piracy activities in the Gulf of Aden since 2009.

The base in Djibouti is the SDF’s first full-scale overseas facility. It was launched in 2011.

The piracy problem peaked at more than 200 cases a year at one point, but the number has dropped greatly in recent years. No damage was reported last year, according to the Japanese government.

Inada separately met with Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh and the nation’s defense chief, Ali Hassan Bahdon. She was scheduled to return to Japan on Tuesday.

The overseas trip kept her from visiting Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Monday, the 71st anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II, even though she has been a regular visitor to the controversial shrine.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s choice to appoint the conservative Inada to the key ministerial post has irritated China and South Korea. A visit to the shrine Monday would have angered both Seoul and Beijing.