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Politics & Security

Japan’s Maritime Force, U.S. Navy More Than Double Joint-Training Sessions in 2021

The sharp rise in the number of joint training is a reaction to China’s increasingly assertive pressure on the Senkaku Islands.

Takushi Ohashi

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U.S.-Japan exercise jointly in August 2020.

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The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) has trained with the United States Navy 23 times this year – representing a significant increase on the January-to-May figures for 2019 and 2020, which were nine times and eight times, respectively.

The figure of 23 training exercises also includes multilateral training sessions with other countries.

The noticeable increase is an apparent move to keep China in check, and improve responsiveness, amid worsening tensions over the Senkaku Islands (Ishigaki City, Okinawa Prefecture). The allies’ concerns have been driven by developments such as China’s implementation of its new maritime security law in February.

RELATED: [Asia’s Next Page] China’s Coast Guard Law Tests Resilience of Maritime Asia

“Chinese Coast Guard ships have repeatedly invaded Japanese waters near the Senkaku Islands,” said Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi on June 4, in reference to the longest continuous presence so far by Chinese government ships in that region.

RELATED: EDITORIAL | Japan Must Reinforce Self-Defense Forces, Coast Guard at Senkakus

The Japan Coast Guard has been responding to the Chinese Coast Guard’s aggression. However, Chinese Navy ships are also based about 90 kilometers north of the Senkaku Islands, keeping an eye on the situation around the islands.

The Chinese Coast Guard, which falls under the command of China’s Central Military Commission, is pressing ahead with integration with the Chinese navy.

RELATED: China Coast Guard’s Militarization Directly Impacts Stability Around the Senkakus

The increase in JMSDF joint-training sessions with the U.S. Navy this year stems from a sense of caution over China’s steady strengthening of pressure in the region.

In 2021, there has been a particular focus on training sessions involving U.S. aircraft carriers. There was a January session with the USS Theodore Roosevelt near Okidaito Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, and a May session with the USS Ronald Reagan in waters east of Okinawa.

With tensions heightening over the Senkaku Islands, the U.S. military also carried out an extremely rare training session in February.

On February 17, a U.S. military transport aircraft flew over the Senkaku Islands, and air dropped supplies near the islands. According to a source close to the government, the aircraft was also planning to airdrop soldiers, but this plan was canceled due to bad weather.

China has set the airspace around the Senkaku Islands as its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), and monitors Japan Self-Defense Forces and U.S. military movements using ship radar. On February 17, the Chinese military scrambled fighter jets, and in response the Japan Air Self-Defense Force also scrambled similar aircraft.

RELATED: Beijing Redefines Boundaries in East China Sea via Expanded Surveillance Buoys Network

In a TV program broadcast in March, Defense Minister Kishi made it clear that the joint training with the U.S. military was being done on the assumption of possibly having to defend the Senkaku Islands.

Up to now, Japan has been careful not to provoke China by adopting American-style training on its own. This has prompted a source close to the government to say that “Japan’s training should be done jointly together with the U.S.”

(Read The Sankei Shimbun report in Japanese at this link.)

Author:  Takushi Ohashi