US and Japanese soldiers have this week completed a joint training exercise along the coast of California that simulates invading islands captured by enemy troops.
Observers said it was a thinly veiled warning to China not to land forces on the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台).
“Memo to Beijing: Be forewarned,” an article in the New York Times said.
The amphibious operation has lasted for four-and-a-half weeks and involved more than 1,200 US Marines and 240 soldiers from the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s Western Army Infantry Regiment.
Called “Exercise Iron Fist,” the training was part of a nine-year-old program, but this year’s event was especially significant considering current tensions in the East China Sea.
The Diaoyutai Islands have been at the center of growing political hostilities as a result of conflicting sovereignty claims by Japan, China and Taiwan.
The New York Times said that while US military officials said that “Iron Fist” had nothing to do with the Diaoyutai situation, Marine Commander Colonel John O’Neal said the Japanese team had “a new sense of purpose.”
“There are certainly current events that have added emphasis to this exercise,” O’Neal said. “Is there a heightened awareness? Yes.”
The Taipei Times recently reported that US Pacific Fleet Captain James Fanell believed that China was training its forces for a “short, sharp” war with Japan in the East China Sea.
US Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno was in Beijing last weekend trying to improve US-China military relations.
“This is really about expanding cooperation and managing competition,” he said. “We want to expand our cooperation at a very high level, deepen our cooperation in areas of mutual interest and then manage our differences constructively.”
“Annual training exercises with the Japanese help both of our militaries develop capabilities and skill sets essential to providing increased international security and improved prosperity,” O’Neal said.
He said that closely integrated exercises made the US and Japanese forces more familiar with each other’s capabilities and better able to respond “quickly and effectively” to future crises.
The exercises featured amphibious landing operations, fire support and forward observation, amphibious reconnaissance and advanced marksmanship.
“We have upped the ante with regards to the complexity of what we are doing,” O’Neal said.
Based in Camp Pendleton, the joint exercises stretched out across southern California.
The New York Times said the drills were the largest and most involved operation of their kind so far.
“The exercise included drones and the kinds of air support that would be needed to protect Japanese and American troops retaking an island,” the newspaper said.
Over the past months, there have also been reports of Chinese military exercises involving landings on small islands.
“There has been enough Chinese activity to justify this exercise,” a Washington-based military analyst said.