• KYODO, JIJI

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China has “steadily improved” its military capability to fend off U.S. Navy vessels in the western Pacific, the summary of a Japanese think tank report has shown.

The National Institute for Defense Studies, a policy research unit of Japan’s Defense Ministry, was referring to the deployment by China of ground-launched anti-ship ballistic missiles on its coast to push back U.S. aircraft carriers from surrounding waters.

The deployment of the missiles, analysts say, has disrupted the military balance between the United States and China within the “first island chain,” a defense line drawn by China off the east coast running in an area that includes Okinawa, Taiwan and the Philippines.

The institute plans to release the report later this month.

The summary seen by Kyodo News warns of China’s growing maritime assertiveness as the country has militarized disputed outposts in the South China Sea, while its coast guard vessels have repeatedly entered Japanese waters near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi has lambasted the repeated moves by Chinese government vessels near the Senkakus.

On Friday, he left open the possibility of the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military conducting joint drills around the islets, which also claimed by China, where they are known as the Diaoyu.

Holding joint drills around the Senkakus “has quite a big meaning,” Kishi told a news conference, adding that such a drill “would also be a chance to show how Japan conducts (drills).”

A joint statement released Tuesday after a so-called “two-plus-two” meeting in Tokyo of the foreign and defense ministers of Japan and the United States said that “realistic bilateral and multilateral exercises and training are necessary” for Japan and the United States to be ready for future challenges.

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