Japan hosts multilateral display of naval unity amid East Asian tensions

YOKOSUKA, Japan, Nov 6 (Reuters) – Japan held its first international fleet review in seven years on Sunday with ships from 12 other nations in a show of unity as North Korea fires a record number of missiles and that China increases its pressure on Taiwan.

The naval parade in Sagami Bay near Tokyo involved 38 ships, 18 from friendly countries such as the United States, South Korea, Britain, Australia, Singapore, India and Thailand. Thirty-three planes flew overhead, including patrol planes and submarine-hunting helicopters.

“We must be ready for those who violate the rules and who would use force to trample the peace and security of other nations,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a speech on Japan’s Izumo helicopter carrier. “We will formulate a new national security strategy by the end of the year and significantly strengthen our defense capabilities.”

Kishida greeted dignitaries on the Izumo before flying to the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to meet Ambassador Rahm Emanuel and senior naval commanders.

“What bothers China the most is that we have allies, they are vast and wide-ranging,” Emanuel said after accompanying Kishida on a Ronald Reagan tour.

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 the Japanese event came as ties between neighbors improve after a row over wartime workers’ compensation and Korean women forced to work in brothels Japanese military, which had threatened to derail closer cooperation between the two American allies.

Japan refused to participate in South Korea’s fleet review in 2018 after Seoul asked it not to display its rising sun ensign, which South Korea sees as a symbol of Japanese aggression in times of war. Tokyo has refused to invite South Korea to a review scheduled for 2019.

The two countries have grown closer as North Korea steps 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 refuge.

China, which has criticized Japan’s defense spending plans, declined an invitation to participate in the review. Russia was not invited due to its invasion of Ukraine.

Reporting by Tim Kelly in Yokosuka; Editing by William Mallard

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