Sun, Oct 21, 2012 - Page 1 News List

Japan, US axe island drill: report

AFP, TOKYO

Japan and the US are dropping plans for a joint military drill to simulate the retaking of a remote island from foreign forces amid the row between Tokyo and Beijing over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), a report said.

The governments are set to cancel the drill as it could provoke further anger from China after the row escalated when Japan last month nationalized some of the disputed islands, Jiji Press reported late on Friday.

The decision to cancel the drill, which would have involved an island that is not part of the disputed chain, was in line with the views of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s office, the news agency quoted sources as saying.

No official was available for comment at the Japanese Defense Ministry.

According to earlier Japanese news reports, the exercise would have been part of broader joint Japan-US maneuvers due to start early next month.

The drill would have used an uninhabited island, Irisunajima, near the main Okinawan island in southern Japan, and would have seen Japanese and US troops make amphibious and airborne landings, the reports said.

Like the disputed islands, tiny Irisunajima is also in the East China Sea, but hundreds of kilometers away from the archipelago at the center of the row

Japan and China have long been at loggerheads over the sovereignty of the rocky outcrops — known as the Senkakus in Japan — which are also claimed by Taiwan and China.

The Tokyo-administered island chain is uninhabited, but the seabed below them is thought to contain valuable natural resources, such as oil.

The dispute flared up in August and September with landings by nationalists from Japan and China and the subsequent nationalization of the islands by Tokyo.

Meanwhile, five Chinese government ships were seen sailing close to the Tokyo-controlled Diaoyutais yesterday, provoking Japanese patrol boats into chasing them away from the disputed chain.

It was the first time in 10 days that state-owned Chinese ships have been spotted near the islands as bad weather prevailed because of a powerful typhoon passing through.

Japan’s coast guard said its patrol boats were warning the Chinese vessels “not to violate territorial waters” and were keeping them under surveillance off the island chain.

Despite the warnings, one of the surveillance ships responded by radio in Chinese: “This ocean area is an integral part of China and we are carrying out legitimate operations,” according to a coastguard official.

The coast guard said it had spotted four Chinese maritime surveillance vessels sailing 24km to 35km off Uotsurijima — the largest island in the chain — in the morning.

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