Japan, US hold joint weapons drills amid concern from China and North Korea

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TOKYO — Japan and the United States began a major joint military exercise in southern Japan on Thursday as allies aim to bolster their preparedness in the face of China’s growing assertiveness and stepped-up missile launches from North Korea.

The biennial “Keen Sword” exercises began at a Japanese air base in southern Japan and also took place at several other locations in and around Japan. They will run until November 19.

About 26,000 Japanese and 10,000 American soldiers, as well as 30 ships and 370 aircraft from both sides, are to take part in the drills, according to the Japanese Defense Ministry. Australia, Britain and Canada will also join parts of the drills, he added.

Joint field training including amphibious landing drills are planned on Japan’s remote southwestern islands, including Tokunoshima, Amami and Tsutarajima, as Japan bolsters its defense capability in the region amid rising tensions in About China.

China has bolstered its claims to nearly all of the South China Sea by building man-made islands equipped with military facilities and airfields. Beijing also claims a string of Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea and has stepped up military harassment of self-governing Taiwan, which it says is part of China and must be annexed by force if necessary.

The joint exercise also comes on the heels of increased missile fire by North Korea, which has launched more than 30 this year, including one Wednesday that fell at sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan. Last month, an intercontinental ballistic missile flew over northern Japan.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, citing deteriorating security in the region, pledged to dramatically increase Japanese military capability and possibly allow a pre-emptive strike capability to attack enemy missile launch sites from afar. The plans are expected to be included in a revised national security strategy and medium-to-long-term defense guidelines later this year.

A move to develop a strike capability is a major shift for Japan’s principle of self-defense, although the country has rapidly expanded the role and capability of its military over the past decade to work more closely with the United States. States and other partners in the region and Europe. .

Exercises like Keen Sword provide Japanese and U.S. forces “opportunities to train together in a variety of mission areas in realistic scenarios to improve readiness, interoperability and build credible deterrence,” U.S. forces said. in Japan in a statement Thursday.

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