The Yomiuri Shimbun Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with top officials at the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday to discuss Japan’s response to a U.S.-led maritime security mission aimed at ensuring security mainly in the Strait of Hormuz.
Abe, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya and others are believed to have considered options including independently dispatching a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer on the pretext of gathering information, and engaging in surveillance and monitoring activities.
According to a source related to the matter, a provision on survey and research activities in the Defense Ministry Establishment Law can potentially serve as the legal grounds for dispatching the ship. The provision has been used since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to provide the grounds for deploying Self-Defense Forces destroyers in certain instances, including to escort U.S. aircraft carriers and to conduct operations in the Indian Ocean ahead of activities carried out under the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law.
However, the use of weapons that can inflict harm on people is limited to times of self-defense or emergency evacuation. It is therefore considered difficult for SDF vessels to protect ships related to Japan. To avoid antagonizing Iran, a plan is emerging to dispatch the SDF to gather information in waters other than the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf.
The government is also apparently considering a plan to change the legal grounds to enable the protection of Japan-related ships if necessary depending on the situation in the region. The new legal grounds would be maritime patrol operations based on the Self-Defense Forces Law.
At a Cabinet meeting Thursday, the government approved a statement saying that ships to be protected through maritime patrol operations would include foreign-registered ships operated by Japanese shipping companies and foreign-registered ships carrying Japanese cargo important to ensure a stable economy for the Japanese people, in addition to Japan-registered vessels and foreign-registered vessels with Japanese nationals on board.