Japan mulls sending patrol aircraft for int'l antipiracy mission

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday Japan will consider sending P-3C patrol aircraft for multinational antipiracy operations off Somalia, Japanese officials said.

In a meeting with Vice Adm. John Miller, commander of the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet, in Bahrain, Abe said it is very important to contribute to the international community's efforts with the dispatch of the Maritime Self-Defense Force aircraft. Miller lauded the plane's capabilities, the officials said.

The Japanese government decided in July that an MSDF escort vessel will join a combined operation from December involving countries such as the United States, Britain and Australia to prevent pirates from approaching commercial vessels in the Gulf of Aden.

The government maintains that MSDF participation in the joint mission will not contravene its longstanding interpretation that Japan cannot exercise the right to collective self-defense under the pacifist Constitution, as antipiracy activities are limited to "the use of police authority."

Japan's antipiracy mission off Somalia began in 2009. Two MSDF escort vessels and two P-3C patrol planes are deployed in the operation.

In his talks with Miller, Abe also said ensuring stability in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz is vital to Japan and the world economy. The strait is one of the busiest shipping lanes for crude oil and Japan heavily depends on the Middle East for crude oil imports.

Abe is in Bahrain on the first leg of a six-day trip through Thursday that also includes visits to Kuwait, Qatar and Djibouti.

On Saturday, Abe met with his Bahrain counterpart Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa and agreed to resume a ministerial strategic dialogue between Japan and the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September, the officials said.

The six GCC countries are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Khalifa said Bahrain will scrap its restrictions on food imports from Japan that were imposed following the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011 and Abe expressed his gratitude, they said.