TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera will visit India and Sri Lanka from Sunday to discuss military cooperation with those two countries, the ministry said Friday, in an apparent effort to counter China's growing influence in the Indian Ocean.
On the first leg of the five-day trip, Onodera will meet with Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, with the aim of reaching an agreement to hold the first joint exercise -- as soon as this fall -- of Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force and the Indian army.
In Sri Lanka, Onodera will meet with President Maithripala Sirisena, who doubles as defense minister, to discuss further Japan assistance to the navy of the Indian Ocean island country, located near sea lanes that are vital to transporting crude oil from the Middle East to East Asia.
Onodera will also visit a strategically located port in the town of Hambantota, operated by a Chinese firm.
Japan is striving to bolster cooperation with Asian and African countries based on the "Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy" promoted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and endorsed by the United States, in an effort to counter the growing maritime assertiveness of China.