Photo/IllutrationLanzhou, the Chinese navy's Luyang-II class missile destroyer, foreground, tracks the Kaga and Inazuma destroyers of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force in the South China Sea on the morning of Oct. 25. (Takateru Doi)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

ONBOARD THE KAGA--Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers Kaga and Inazuma were refueled by U.S. replenishment vessel Pecos in the South China Sea to the south of Vietnam on Oct. 25 as a Chinese destroyer tailed them.

The tension between Japan and China in the waters came to light on the same day Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in China, where he is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Oct. 26.

The Japanese fleet, on long-term voyages around the South China Sea and Indian Ocean, had been tracked by a Chinese navy missile destroyer before dawn on Oct. 25. The refueling operations were done under the “surveillance” of the neighboring country’s combatant craft.

China is attempting to build military strongholds on land it is reclaiming around reefs in the South China Sea. Japan and the United States are protesting those unilateral developments while trying to force China to allow them to travel around the areas without restrictions through close collaboration with other neighboring countries.

Shortly after 8 a.m. that day, the Kaga and Inazuma approached the Pecos from behind and then moved forward on either side of the U.S. vessel.

Later, two fuel hoses from the Pecos were stretched across and inserted into the two Japanese ships’ oil-receiving ports while moving forward at about 20 kph. Their missions of receiving hundreds of kiloliters of fuel were completed in about two hours.

The procedure took place in neutral waters outside the area that Beijing claims sovereignty over with what it calls the “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea.

But Lanzhou, the Chinese navy’s Luyang-II class missile destroyer, had been tracking the Kaga, Inazuma and Pecos, and it went close enough to the fleet that the distance between the two parties was only about 5 kilometers for a period of time during the refueling.

Such refueling operations are based on the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), which stipulates that the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and U.S. military forces can mutually provide goods including fuel and food, as well as services such as transportation or repairing devices.

“Our anxiety over fuel shortages during the journey to the destination has gone,” an MSDF officer in charge of planning voyages aboard the Kaga said. “We are very grateful that we can be provided with fuel from the U.S. military forces based on ACSA.”

The Kaga, the largest destroyer in the MSDF, where five helicopters can depart or arrive at the same time, measures about 248 meters long and 38 meters wide, and its standard displacement is 19,950 tons.

The Kaga’s type is the same as the MSDF ship Izumo. Transforming the Izumo into an aircraft carrier is under consideration.

The fleet left the MSDF Kure base in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, on Aug. 26, and has been engaged in joint exercises with the navies of the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Singapore.

The MSDF members on the pair of ships then set off on Oct. 23 from their last anchorage site, Singapore's Changi naval base, and are now on their way to Japan while conducting exercises on the waters.

Their activities are viewed as the MSDF’s first “exercise around the Indo-Pacific regions” and part of “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy,” which the Abe administration is focusing on.