>> Japan's largest warship is set to sail through the contested waters of the South China Sea in the nation's largest show of naval force since the Second World War. Reuters learning Monday exclusively that the Izumo helicopter carrier's planned three-month voyage will plot a course through a group of islands in the Pacific, rich in oil, gas, fishing and shipping routes.
And claimed by Beijing and five other countries. China has laid claim to almost all the disputed waters and its growing military present has raised alarms in Japan and the West. With the US now regularly patrolling the area by air and sea. A spokesman for Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force declined to comment.
The Japanese naval expedition comes as the US appears to be taking a tougher line with China. Washington has criticized China's construction of man-made islands and military bases in the area. Beijing, in January, saying it had quote, irrefutable sovereignty over the disputed islands, after the US vowed to defend quote, international territories.
Japan has no claim to the South China Sea, but does have a separate dispute with Beijing in the East China Sea. Tokyo has, in recent years, ramped up its military capacity. Stretching the limits of its post-World War II pacifist constitution, which limits Japan to defensive weapons. The Izumo, nonetheless, allows Japan to project military power well beyond its territory.
The carrier will make stops in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, before joining joint naval exercises with the US and Indian armadas in July.