Japan is to join a major US-Australian military exercise for the first time in a sign of growing security links as tensions fester over China’s island building in the South China Sea.
While only 40 Japanese officers and soldiers are to take part in drills involving 30,000 US and Australian troops in early July, experts said the move showed how Washington wanted to foster cooperation among its security allies in Asia.
The Talisman Sabre biennial exercises, to be held in locations around Australia, is to encompass maritime operations, amphibious landings, special forces tactics and urban warfare.
“I think the US is trying to get its allies to do more,” said Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. “There is an obvious symmetry between Japan as the upper anchor of the Western Pacific alliance and... Australia as the southern anchor.”
All three nations have said they were concerned about freedom of movement through the South China Sea, where China is creating seven artificial islands in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島).
The Japanese personnel will embed with US forces while 500 New Zealand troops will join Australian contingents, according to the Australian Defence Force Web site.
Japanese Minister of Defense Gen Nakatani rebuffed suggestions that the exercises were aimed at China, saying Japan simply wanted to improve military cooperation with the US and Australia.
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