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Japan’s largest warship, the Kaga helicopter carrier, sailed into Sri Lanka’s Colombo harbor this weekend, marking Tokyo’s highest profile salvo in a diplomatic battle with China for influence along the region’s vital commercial sea lanes.

Japan has long provided low-interest loans and aid to Sri Lanka, helping it transform Colombo into a major transshipment port tapping the artery of global trade just south of the island that links Europe and the Middle East with Asia.

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