Japan’s military is sharpening its skills at defending remote islands with the help of U.S. troops, as Tokyo faces an increasingly contentious dispute with China.
In a move that signals how the two allies are adjusting their defense cooperation to counter Beijing’s growing territorial ambitions in the Western Pacific, troops from Japan’s Ground Self Defense Force since mid-August have been receiving training on amphibious military tactics from the U.S. Marine Corps.
During the final session, which runs through Tuesday on Guam and other U.S.-controlled islands, roughly 40 troops from the Japanese army have trained with their Marine counterparts to make landing by boat or helicopter, and expel imaginary enemy forces that have taken over key facilities, such as a port and an airport on jungle-covered islands.
s the key U.S. military partner in Asia, Japan’s Self Defense Forces regularly conduct joint exercises with U.S. troops. But U.S. and Japanese officials say the current session is the first drill devoted to island defense by the American and Japanese units defending the southern island chain of Okinawa. Japan considers the islands that are at the heart of the current Japan-China dispute—known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in Chinese—to be part of Okinawa.
Japanese and U.S. officials stress they don’t envision any specific country as an enemy as they conduct these drills. But the occasion is a provocative show of unity between the two allies, coming at a time when a dispute over a group of small uninhabited islands in the East China Sea brings tensions between Japan and China to levels not seen in many years. The exercise—while scheduled weeks ago—coincided with a period when anti-Japan protests turned violent in some Chinese cities, pro- and anti-Japanese activists have landed on the islands, and a small fleet of Chinese boats have hovered for days near the territorial waters of the disputed islands.
Read More: WSJ