Japan will help train personnel in member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations taking part in U.N. peacekeeping operations, sources said Monday.

The government has been providing training in Africa on how to operate heavy machinery, and plans to expand the program to cover ASEAN nations, according to the sources.

Having set aside about ¥4.5 billion in related spending under the fiscal 2017 supplementary budget, the government plans to dispatch Self-Defense Forces personnel later this year at the earliest, the sources said.

The last Ground Self-Defense Force engineering unit returned from South Sudan in May 2017, and no SDF units are currently on U.N. peacekeeping missions.

The government is looking for a new mission, but all 14 ongoing U.N. peacekeeping operations are conducted in areas where the security conditions are unstable, making it difficult to dispatch personnel under the principles governing Japanese participation in peacekeeping activities.

For the time being the government will instead prioritize support to boost the capacity of foreign forces, according to the sources.

U.N. peacekeeping operations have recently been facing a serious shortage of heavy machinery, used mainly for road repairs, as well as personnel who can operate the equipment.

SDF personnel have been dispatched to a training facility in Kenya since 2015. In Kenya and Uganda, SDF members have taught local people how to operate bulldozers and pave roads.

To conduct similar projects within ASEAN, the SDF will dispatch personnel to nations taking part in or planning to join U.N. peacekeeping operations and help improve the technological capabilities of local staff workers.

Japan has listed Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam as candidate venues for the training programs and will coordinate with the United Nations, the sources said.

By strengthening relations with a number of nations through such training, Japan aims to counter China’s growing presence in U.N. peacekeeping activities, according to the sources.

China has increased participation in peacekeeping missions since the 2000s, involving a total of 2,514 personnel as of the end of May.

The Japanese government hopes to become more relevant in the international community through providing “effective assistance” at the request of the United Nations, a Defense Ministry official said.

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