Despite heightened tensions with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute, Japan will press ahead with a scheduled military exercise that will simulate the defense of an island from amphibious invaders. The Japanese Defense Ministry reaffirmed Tokyo’s intention to carry on with the exercise. The exercise demonstrates Japanese seriousness about preparing for a potential skirmish or broader conflict against China over the disputed islands.
According to Reuters, the exercises will run from May 10 to 27 on a “small uninhabited island in the Ryukyu chain, some 600 km (375 miles) northeast of the disputed isles.” Furthermore, some parts of the exercise will be held in Nagasaki prefecture, in southwestern Kyushu, and others will take place in waters off the coast of Okinawa’s eastern coast. Okinawa is also where the United States maintains a massive troop presence and military base.
While Japan has conducted similar exercises in the past, according to Reuters, this will be the first time that the Japanese military will use an actual uninhabited island as part of the island defense training exercise. The exercise will incorporate the Ground, Air, and Maritime Self-Defense Forces. ” About 1,300 troops, as well as several fighter jets and destroyers, will practice landing on and retaking the island,” according to Reuters.
A defense ministry spokesman declined to link the exercise to China, noting that “Boosting island defense is something that has been mentioned in the defense white paper in recent years.”
The exercise comes shortly after Japan raised China’s ire by stationing a radar system and 100 troops on its westernmost island, not too far from China’s coast. The radar installation on Yonaguni is Japan’s first western military expansion in over 40 years.
The Japanese announcement comes shortly after China announced plans to conduct naval exercises with Russia in the East China Sea, off the coast of Shanghai. Additionally, on Friday, three Chinese coastguard ships sailed into disputed waters in the East China Sea. According to the Japanese coastguard, the ships came within 12 nautical miles on the territorial waters surrounding the disputed islands. The incursion breaks with a recent Chinese trend to focus less on physically contesting the disputed islands and focusing instead on a war of words.
Japan’s defense ministry has demonstrated great interest in developing robust island defense capabilities following the escalation of the dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands with China. By regularly conducting these exercises, not only does Japan practice its readiness for a potential future Chinese incursion, but it also serves to deter China by demonstrating a degree of defensive competence in holding the disputed territories from aggression. The reputational costs of a potential loss to Japan in a skirmish over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands serve as an important deterrent for China.