Japan hosted its first international fleet review for seven years on Sunday with ships from 12 other nations in a show of unity as North Korea fires record numbers of missiles and China increases its pressure on Taiwan.
The naval parade in Sagami Bay near Tokyo involved 38 vessels, 18 from friendly countries such as the United States, South Korea, Britain, Australia, Singapore, India and Thailand. Thirty-three aircraft flew overhead, including submarine-hunting patrol planes and helicopters.
“We must [be] ready for those who violate rules and who would use force to trample on the peace and security of other nations,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a speech on the Japanese helicopter carrier Izumo. “We will formulate a new national security strategy by year end and drastically strengthen our defense capabilities.”
Kishida hosted dignitaries on the Izumo before flying to the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to meet Ambassador Rahm Emanuel and senior navy commanders.
“What upsets China most is we have allies, they are expansive and extensive,” Emanuel said after accompanying Kishida on a tour of the Ronald Reagan.
Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party has pledged to double Japan’s defense budget to around 2% of gross domestic product within five years.
South Korea’s decision to join Japan’s event came as ties between the neighbors improve after a spat over compensation for wartime laborers and Korean women forced to work in Japanese military brothels, which had threatened to derail closer cooperation between the two U.S. allies.
Japan refused to join South Korea’s fleet review in 2018 after Seoul asked it not to fly its rising sun ensign, which South Korea views as a symbol of Japanese wartime aggression. Tokyo declined to invite South Korea to a planned 2019 review.
Both countries have drawn closer as North Korea ratchets up its missile launches, including a suspected long-range missile on Thursday that triggered an alert in central and northern Japan for residents to seek shelter.
China, which has criticized Japan’s defense spending plans, declined an invitation to join the review. Russia was not invited because of its invasion of Ukraine.