Japan's Izumo-class helicopter carrier Kaga. Photo: Yomiuri Shimbun via AFP/Yoshiko Moriya

Japan announced on Tuesday that it is sending three ships to the South China Sea and Indian Ocean to hold joint exercises with six nations, according to The Japan Times.

The vessels include the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s largest, the helicopter carrier Kaga. The Izumo-class helicopter carriers are technically designated as destroyers to comply with a constitutional ban on offensive weapons.

“This is part Japan’s efforts to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific,” officials were quoted as saying last month when it was first reported that Kaga will be making the tour.

Malcolm Cook, a senior fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, was quoted as saying in the Japan Times report that while the upcoming dispatch of naval firepower was significant, it did not mean that Japan was prepared to test China’s mettle.

“I do not think Japan is emboldened but rather increasingly worried about the regional security environment and is responding by trying to do more to address these worries,” he said.

Collin Koh, a specialist in regional naval affairs at Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, was quoted as saying that regional powers would welcome the move.

“While the engagements might be modest compared to those customarily undertaken by the US and other established external security partners […] Japan’s slate of engagements appear to have been well received by regional governments.”

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