Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces will conduct a military exercise this month to practice defending an island, the Defense Ministry said, underscoring concern about East China Sea islands controlled by Japan but claimed by China.
The dispute over the islands, called the Senkaku are Japanese but are claimed by China, has raised fears of a clash between the Asian neighbors which could even drag in the United States.
The Defense Ministry said the island defense exercise would run from May 10 to May 27 on a small uninhabited island in the Ryukyu chain, some 600 km northeast of the disputed isles.
Some parts of the exercise will be held in southwestern Japan’s Nagasaki prefecture and waters off Okinawa Island’s east coast. Okinawa is home is a major U.S. military base and Japan also bases forces there.
It will be the first time that the Naval Self-Defense Forces will use an actual island for island defense training involving its ground, air, sea and marine divisions.
About 1,300 troops, as well as several fighter jets and destroyers, will practice landing on and retaking an island, the ministry said.
But it said the exercise was not a response to the tension with China.
“Boosting island defense is something that has been mentioned in the defense white paper in recent years. This is not a drill that is responding to the current security situation surrounding Japan,” a ministry spokesman said.
U.S. President Barack Obama said last week while on a visit to Japan that the disputed islands were covered by a U.S.-Japan security treaty, angering China.
Last month, Japan announced it would break ground on a radar base in the area, on a tropical Japanese island close to Taiwan.
The radar station on Yonaguni Island, just 150 km from the disputed islands in the East China Sea, marks Japan’s first military expansion at the western end of its island chain in more than 40 years.