Japan and the United States are preparing for joint exercises centered on a potential emergency near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, Japanese officials have said.
The preparations come after the top diplomats and defense chiefs of the two allies agreed last week to counter China’s attempt to change the status quo around the islands that are administered by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing, which calls them the Diaoyu.
Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, meeting in Tokyo on March 16, agreed to bolster their countries’ rapid-response capabilities through high-level exercises.
The type of joint exercises envisioned near the Senkakus are based on Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines stipulating that the Self-Defense Forces have primary responsibility for defense of remote islands while the United States provides appropriate support to Japan.
When the guidelines were updated in 2015, “there was a cautious opinion among U.S. officials about to what extent the U.S. side should be involved” in defense cooperation with Japan, a Japanese source familiar with the talks said.
On March 9, U.S. forces in Japan and the Ground Self-Defense Force jointly conducted a large-scale drill in which they apparently played the roles as stipulated in the guidelines.
Twelve transport aircraft from the U.S. military’s Yokota Air Base in Tokyo carried a total of 500 members of the GSDF’s First Airborne Brigade above the Higashifuji training ground in Shizuoka Prefecture, onto which they descended.
Airborne brigades are designed to take on the duty of mounting surprise attacks or bringing areas dominated by opponents back into the attackers’ fold.
“The main purpose of this operation was to demonstrate the GSDF’s capability to employ airborne insertion anywhere in the country of Japan,” Capt. Christopher Espinosa, U.S. Air Force 36th Airlift Squadron pilot and Airborne 21 mission commander, said on Yokota Air Base’s website.
“It was a great training opportunity to take lessons learned and how we can advance in our training in the future and also it was an effective example of a deterrent to some of our peer adversaries,” Espinosa said.
Among the Senkakus, the islands of Kuba and Taisho are being offered as training grounds for U.S. forces based on the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement. If the United States agrees, the two islands can be used for joint exercises with the SDF.
“The United States doesn’t want to increase tensions too much,” one source linked to the Japanese government said, adding that joint exercises are being considered from a diplomatic standpoint.
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