Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the waters “a lifeline that supports the lives of the Japanese people." Thousands of Japanese ships ply the route every year, transporting 90% of the country's oil supply, he said.
“Your mission of information gathering is an extremely significant one that directly affects people's lives," Abe told the troops in a televised sendoff ceremony at Yokosuka.
Sending warships to areas of military tension is a highly sensitive issue in Japan because its pacifist post-World War II constitution limits the use of force by the military strictly to self-defense. Abe has gradually expanded Japan’s military role since he took office in late 2012.
Under the plan, the destroyer and some 200 Maritime Self-Defense Force troops will join a pair of P-3C reconnaissance aircraft that were operating in the same area from a base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.
The Abe government is expected to authorize troops to protect Japanese commercial ships in case of danger, a plan that has faced opposition from pacifist groups.
Despite being a U.S. ally, Japanese troops are not part of a U.S.-led coalition protecting Middle East waterways, because Tokyo wants to maintain neutrality in a show of consideration to Iran.
Japan, which has friendly ties with Iran, seeks to serve as a mediator between the Washington and Tehran and play a greater role in restoring regional stability.
In June, a Japanese-operated tanker was attacked in the Gulf of Oman. Washington said Iran was responsible and urged Japan to join the U.S.-led military initiative.
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