Japan says it will not join a U.S.-led coalition to protect shipping in vital commerce lanes in the Middle East but will send its own vessels to ensure safe delivery of oil to Japan.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on October 18 said Tokyo will still cooperate closely with Washington in efforts to protect oil tankers amid a series of attacks the West and Arab allies have blamed on Iran.
“We won't join the United States, but will cooperate closely with them," Suga told a news conference. "Self-Defense Force assets will ensure the safety of vessels related to Japan."
"Peace and stability in the Middle East is extremely important for the international society, including Japan."
"After we studied comprehensively what measures can be most effective, we have decided to pursue our own measures separately."
U.S. President Donald Trump has launched a naval escort campaign to defend commercial shipping interests in the Persian Gulf against harassment and illegal interference, with support from Australia, Britain, and other Western and Gulf states.
Several incidents in and around the Gulf, which sees around one-fifth of international oil shipments, have raised tensions. Tehran has denied any involvement in attacks on tankers in the region.
Japan, which is heavily reliant on the import of oil products, has maintained relatively good relations with Tehran and has expressed reluctance to join the U.S.-led force.
Suga said Japan will send warships initially to gather information in the Gulf of Oman, the Northern Arabian Sea, and nearby waters.
He did not mention the strategic Strait of Hormuz, which has been the focus of U.S.-Iran tension.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has gradually expanded the role of the military in Japan, which still has a pacifist postwar constitution that strictly limits use of force to self-defense purposes.
Trump has accused Iran of carrying out June 13 attacks against two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, including a Japanese vessel. No one was hurt in the attack, but the ships suffered damages.