Analysis by Brad Lendon, CNN
Updated 2333 GMT (0733 HKT) October 27, 2020
Hong Kong (CNN)Tens of thousands of US and Japanese troops will begin a massive island-landing exercise in the Pacific this week as part of joint military operations seen as a warning to China that Washington backs Tokyo over Beijing’s claim to Japanese-controlled islands.Speaking aboard a Japanese warship Monday, Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, commander of US Forces Japan, said the exercises would demonstrate the ability of the US-Japan alliance “to deliver combat troops to defend the Senkakus or respond to other crises or contingencies.”Both Tokyo and Beijing claim the Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyus in China, as their own, but Japan has administered them since 1972.Tensions over the uninhabited rocky chain, 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo, have simmered for years, and with claims over them dating back centuries, neither Japan nor China is likely to back down.Chinese vessels have been spending record amounts of time in the waters around the islands this year, drawing condemnation from Tokyo.The US-Japan exercises, named Keen Sword 21, have been held biennially for more than 30 years. This year’s exercises run through to November 5.
The US commitment
The prospect of any Japan-China military face-off over disputed islands holds even more gravity because the US-Japan mutual defense treaty obligates Washington to defend the islands as if they are American territory.close dialog
The large-scale exercises have strong “deterrent value” toward China, said Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center.”They show (island) seizure is not going to be cheap or unchallenged,” he said.Corey Wallace, an assistant professor focusing on Japanese foreign policy at Kanagawa University, said the exercises are displaying new levels of interoperability between the Japanese and US militaries.
Rare footage shows US patrol of South China Sea 02:56The US will land MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft on Japan’s largest warship, the JS Kaga, said Wallace. And it could be just a glimpse of what the two militaries might do in the future with their stealth fighters.”This speaks to the intensifying nature of the amphibious exercises but also the future possibilities for further cross-decking, perhaps first with US F-35Bs on Japanese ships, and later, possibly Japanese F-35Bs on American amphibious vessels,” Wallace said. “Demonstrating interoperability between the two forces in realistic scenarios is as important, if not more so, than displaying any shiny new hardware.”Meanwhile, with much less fanfare, China’s People’s Liberation Army is in the midst of two sets of military exercises in the Bohai Sea and Yellow Sea, according to a posting on the PLA’s official English language website. The nature of the exercises was not disclosed.Those exercises, scheduled to end on November 10 and October 30, respectively, are just the latest in a busy few months for China’s military, which has recently had as many as five exercises running simultaneously.
CNN’s Yoko Wakatsuki contributed to this report.