The U.S. military will conduct this year its first ever missile drill around Okinawa, according to a report Thursday, as Washington seeks to counter an increasingly assertive China.
The U.S. military has told the Self-Defense Forces that it plans to deploy surface-to-ship missiles in the strategically important prefecture this year for the first such drill by Tokyo’s key ally, the Sankei Shimbun reported without citing sources.
The drill would involve a mobile rocket launcher seen as a countermeasure to potential attacks from Chinese surface-to-sea ballistic missiles, the paper said.
In recent years Chinese warships have frequently sailed through waters near Okinawa, where the majority of U.S. troops in Japan are based.
Experts say China’s increasingly active maritime activities are part of a plan to establish control of waters within the so-called first island chain that links Okinawa, Taiwan and the Philippines.
Some analysts believe Beijing seeks to end U.S. military dominance in the western Pacific by exerting control of the second island chain that links Japan’s southern Ogasawara islands, the U.S. territory of Guam, and Indonesia.
China’s rapid military build-up has unnerved Asian neighbors, with Japan’s defense chief last year saying China had been “unilaterally escalating” its military activities in the previous year.
Beijing insists the activities are for self-defense.
Despite increasing military rivalry the U.S. and China are each other’s largest trading partners, and China is one of the largest holders of U.S. national debt.
A massive bilateral trade imbalance has, however, caused frictions between the world’s top two economies, with Washington and Beijing imposing tit-for-tat tariffs on more than $300 billion worth of goods in total two-way trade last year.