The US and Japan are preparing for a possible Chinese invasion of the Senkaku Islands. Using a small island off the coast of California, US and Japanese forces are mimicking an armed invasion and an amphibious assault to prepare for a real-life scenario.
The unprecedented drills, code-named Dawn Blitz, are being conducted on San Clemente Island, which is 75 miles northwest of San Diego, the Christian Science Monitor reports. They began with an assault led by 80 US Marines and three MV-22 Osprey aircraft, and were followed by a Japanese counterattack using 1,000 troops and two warships. Although Japanese officials claim they are not preparing to target a third country, the exercises have made Chinese officials uncomfortable.
China and Japan have long disputed the Senkaku Islands, which are located in the East China Sea but which the Japanese government purchased from private owners in 2012. The islands are uninhabited, but believed to hold rich oil and gas deposits. The purchase triggered violent protests that tens of thousands of Chinese took part in, and harmed Sino-Japanese relations.
In the months after the purchase, the Chinese navy practiced military exercises near the islands, and joint US-Japanese naval drills subsequently occurred in the waters of the island chain. The latest drills off the California coast are only adding to tensions regarding the Senkaku Islands. Chinese officials reportedly objected to the drills, but their concerns were ignored by Washington, the Christian Science Monitor reports.
"We're aware of China's objections, but from a Japanese and US perspective, the object of the exercise is to build a powerful deterrent and demonstrate that the two forces are seamlessly connected – to show the Chinese that they are battle-ready," an official source familiar with Dawn Blitz told the Monitor on condition of anonymity. "There is nothing unusual in that."
The exercises began just two days after President Obama met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at a California summit on June 8. But even though some believe the US is in a tricky position, the official does not believe the US is in the wrong, since the US-Japan security treaty requires the country to help Japan deter any attacks on its territory.
"I don't think Dawn Blitz puts the US in a tricky position," the official said. "They started the drill just after the Obama-Xi summit to avoid any diplomatic repercussions. But the fact that Japan and the US went ahead with the exercise also sends a message – that they are on the same page when it comes to deterring possible Chinese aggression."
Lt. Gen. Koichi Isobe, Japan’s vice chief of staff, told reporters that Japan’s self-defense forces (SDF) need to develop the capabilities to ward off any attacks that might occur on the remote islands.
"The defense of remote islands is a pressing issue, but the SDF [Japan's self-defense forces] has just begun training to develop such capabilities, which are required of US Marines," Japan's vice chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Koichi Isobe, told reporters. "Japan needs to determine its defense strategy and procure necessary equipment and train SDF members for this purpose."
The US has publicly refused to take sides regarding the Senkaku Islands, but its training exercises with Japan may inadvertently cause a shift in its neutrality.