• Kyodo

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Two Maritime Self-Defense Force ships are in Singapore — where a major meeting of defense ministers is under way — as the last stop of a two-month deployment through the Indo-Pacific region.

At a news conference Thursday aboard the helicopter carrier and destroyer Kaga, berthed at Singapore’s Changi Naval Base, Rear Adm. Tatsuya Fukuda said it was “just a coincidence” that the two Japanese ships were visiting Singapore at the same time during the “ASEAN Defense Ministers-Plus” meeting.

The defense ministers from the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are gathered with their counterparts from eight major powers outside the region — the United States, China, Japan, India, South Korea, Russia, Australia and New Zealand — for the annual meeting.

There is “no direct relation between the ADMM Plus and our port call in Singapore,” Fukuda said.

However, he conceded the port visit aims to “show our will and our presence for establishing maritime security in this region to the senior leaders who join the ADMM Plus.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, China’s Gen. Wei Fenghe and Japan’s Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya are among the top military officials now in Singapore.

Before arriving in Singapore, the two MSDF ships also visited Subic Bay in the Philippines, Jakarta in Indonesia, Colombo in Sri Lanka and Visakhapatnam in India, where the nation’s naval headquarters is located.

“This is our last port call before returning to Japan,” Fukuda said.

The two vessels, the Kaga and the Inazuma, will complete their two-month Indo-Pacific deployment at the end of this month.

“The goals of this deployment are to enhance our operational capabilities and to promote cooperation and interoperability with our partner navies,” the Japanese admiral said.

“This deployment,” he added, “is in line with the free and open Indo-Pacific strategy promoted by the government of Japan.”

Fukuda said that while sailing through the region, the Japanese vessels sighted “many Chinese ships in the South China Sea as well as the Indian Sea,” but he never felt threatened by them.

ASEAN and China plan to hold their first joint maritime exercise this month.

Fukuda said Japan also plans to send its ships to Singapore in coming years on more such deployments.

“Japan has been developing a strong relationship with Singapore, not only politically and economically but also militarily,” Fukuda said.

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