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Japan nixes dispatch of defense force ships to join US-led coalition in Strait of Hormuz

(Mainichi)
This photo shows a satellite image of the Strait of Hormuz on May 24, 2017. (Gallo Images/Getty/Kyodo)

TOKYO -- Tokyo has shelved the dispatch of Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF) vessels to the Strait of Hormuz as part of a military coalition that the U.S. government is calling for to protect commercial shipping in the Middle East, multiple sources connected to the Japanese government have revealed.

Japan made the decision out of consideration for Japan's traditionally amicable relationship with Iran, which is knee-deep in conflict with the U.S., and hopes to carefully deliberate other methods of cooperation toward ensuring safety in the region.

The Japanese government had considered the legal framework for dispatching the SDF to the Strait of Hormuz and elsewhere at the request of the U.S. government. It considered two options: sea patrols based on the Self-Defense Forces Act to guard and escort Japan-related tankers; or warning and surveillance in the name of investigation and research under the Act for Establishment of the Ministry of Defense.

If, however, Japan were to dispatch SDF vessels as part of the U.S.-led coalition, which sees itself as an anti-Iran alliance, Japan would be unable to avoid pushback from Iran. If an SDF ship were to be attacked, the situation could escalate into a large-scale military conflict. Taking such risks into consideration, the Japanese government concluded that it was appropriate at this point to shelve the dispatch of SDF vessels to the Strait of Hormuz and surrounding area.

"The most important thing is to not allow the route for crude oil transport to Japan to be cut off," a source connected to the Japanese Foreign Ministry said. "Dispatching (SDF) vessels would not reduce tensions, but rather has the potential for increasing them."

Another government source said, "It's Japan's priority to make use of its friendly ties with Iran as a special bargaining card in efforts to secure the safety of the strait."

Japan, however, has kept its options open for cooperating with the U.S., its closest ally. It has not ruled out dispatching ships and surveillance aircraft to areas distant from the Strait of Hormuz, or sending personnel to the coalition's headquarters when it is established. "The U.S. also understands that it is difficult for Japan to participate (in the coalition)," a source close to the government said, "so it is probably thinking of alternative ways for Japan to make up for the shortfall, such as forcing Japan to compromise in trade negotiations."

More than 80% of Japan's crude oil imports pass through the Strait of Hormuz. On June 24, U.S. President Donald Trump said that tankers transporting oil to Japan and China, among other destinations, "should be protected by their own countries." The U.S. subsequently indicated its vision to launch a military coalition for the protection of commercial shipping travelling through the strait. However, European countries remain cautious about such a setup, leading U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to state on July 29 that establishing the coalition "will take more time than we wish it would take."

(Japanese original by Jun Aoki and Naoki Sugi, Political News Department)

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