National

Japan's MSDF and Chinese Navy hold first joint military drills in eight years

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

The Maritime Self-Defense Force has conducted “goodwill exercises” with the Chinese Navy for the first time in eight years, the MSDF has said in a statement.

The training, which saw the Japanese destroyer Samidare and the Chinese guided-missile destroyer Taiyuan practice communications such as radio usage while sailing side by side in waters south of the Kanto region on Oct. 16, comes amid warming ties between the two Asian powers. It was reportedly just the third instance of joint training between the two militaries.

The MSDF aimed to improve tactical skills, strengthen cooperation and promote mutual understanding with the Chinese military, according to the statement released Tuesday.

The Taiyuan, a Type 052D destroyer known colloquially in China as the Chinese Aegis, arrived at the port of Yokosuka in Kanagawa Prefecture on Oct. 11 to participate in Japan’s international fleet review the following week.

That event, however, was canceled after Typhoon Hagibis tore through the area just a day after it arrived, bringing heavy rains and causing widespread flood damage.

The goodwill drill is widely seen as the latest attempt by the two countries to revive defense exchanges, which were suspended due to tensions over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China, where they are known as the Diaoyu.

China routinely sends government-backed ships into the waters surrounding the tiny islets — prompting Japan to send its own vessels — as part of what observers say is a strategy intended to wear down Japan.

Recent years have also seen China’s increasingly capable military punch further into the western Pacific, including through key strategic passageways near Okinawa Prefecture and elsewhere.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has worked to repair ties with Beijing since relations soured in the early 2010s over the Senkakus and history issues. In late June, he met Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka to lay the groundwork for Xi’s first state visit to Japan next spring, touting relations between the “eternal neighboring countries” as much improved.

But while political ties are “back on a normal track,” a survey late last month found that 85 percent of Japanese, a record high, have unfavorable views of China — a stunning contrast with Abe’s talk of creating a “new era” of friendship with Japan’s top Asian rival.

According to the Pew Research Center’s latest Global Attitudes survey, released Sept. 30, Japan was the most negative toward China among the 32 countries polled.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5