via CAAI News Media
Asia+ (AP) - TOKYO, Feb. 4 (Kyodo)—(EDS: CHANGING WORDING IN HEADLING FROM 'BOAT' TO 'SHIP,' FIXING WORDING IN 3RD GRAF, FOR PRECISION)
Japan will send a Self-Defense Force ship to Vietnam and Cambodia from May to July to take part in the U.S. Navy's annual medical aid mission aimed at enhancing Asia-Pacific countries' capabilities on disaster relief, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said Thursday.
The move is the first step under Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's so- called "fraternity boat" initiative, announced last November, to deploy an SDF vessel that would carry civilians and nongovernmental members as well for extending medical support and carrying out cultural exchanges.
A Maritime Self-Defense Force transport ship with 150 crew members and 30 SDF medical officers will join the Pacific Partnership 2010 program organized by the U.S. Pacific Fleet that involves about 20 countries and civic group members, the Defense Ministry said.
Japan will engage in the mission between May 23 and July 15 and provide free medical support to patients in Vietnam and Cambodia for training. The Foreign Ministry will solicit several dozen NGO participants for the latest annual program begun in 2007, a defense ministry official said.
Kitazawa told reporters he believes Japan's participation in the mission is a "landmark event" as it embodies ideal international contribution advocated by Hatoyama.
The minister said Tokyo should not only take part in the U.S.-led activities, but also explore avenues for further contributing to the international community on its own.
In his Asian policy speech in Singapore last November, Hatoyama vowed to launch his initiative in 2010, saying that within the philosophy of "yu-ai (fraternity)," people respect the freedom and human dignity of each other and that the word signifies coexistence.
Japan had sent only two medical officers each for the previous Pacific Partnership missions. This year, Japan will join the United States and Australia in dispatching a vessel, the official said.
The U.S. Navy hospital ship Mercy, which has a full load displacement of approximately 69,350 tons, and the MSDF's 8,900-ton Osumi-class transport ship will be deployed for the mission, he said.
Other participating countries will include South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia, according to the ministry. Japan will set aside some 200 million yen from the state budget for joining the program, the official said.