The Japanese government has decided to get more heavily involved in supporting the maritime security capabilities of countries facing the Indian Ocean, starting with Djibouti and Sri Lanka, a government source said Friday.
The move is part of the "free and open Indo-Pacific" strategy pursued by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in light of China's expanding maritime influence in the region.
Under the strategy, Japan seeks to ensure stability across a wide area spanning from East Asia to Africa through cooperation with countries that share values like the freedom of navigation. The efforts have so far been centered on countries around the South China Sea.
According to the source, the government dispatched a coast guard team earlier this month to Djibouti, which faces sea lanes vital to international trade.
The team has been training coast guard personnel in Djibouti to use and maintain patrol boats provided by Japan and to deal with suspicious vessels.
"Offering the patrol boats and various kinds of exercises as a set will allow Japan to deepen ties with Djibouti," a Japanese government source said.
Japan also plans to send the team to Sri Lanka to train authorities there in the use of two patrol boats to be delivered by July, the source said. The team will also provide training in dealing with oil spills from ships.
The specialist "mobile cooperation team" was set up in the Japan Coast Guard last October.
Japan has already provided patrol vessels and other assistance for countries facing the South China Sea, including the Philippines and Vietnam, whose territorial claims in the sea overlap with China's.
As well as making strategic sense for Japan, expansion of the efforts to the Indian Ocean also answers calls from Djibouti and Sri Lanka for assistance with tackling piracy, the source said.
China has also been busy in both countries, choosing Djibouti as the location for its first overseas naval base and acquiring development rights to a crucial Sri Lankan port.
Sri Lanka participated as an observer for the first time last month in joint anti-piracy drills carried out on a regular basis by Japan and India.