US, French and Japanese soldiers have begun their first-ever joint military exercise in the southwest of Japan, with Australia also joining the week-long drill as tensions between China and other countries in the region intensify.
The exercises in the Kyushu region will see the nations take part in air, land and sea drills, while Australia has sent a naval ship to support the operation involving around 300 troops, fighter jets, 10 surface vessels and a Japanese submarine.
This is expected to be the first of several joint military exercises conducted by Japan in the region. A British aircraft carrier and a German naval vessel are set to head to the Indo-Pacific waters later in 2021.
The military activity comes amid growing tensions between China and other countries in the region, as they accuse Beijing of engaging in aggressive military activity to solidify control of the East and South China Seas.
Conversely, China has argued that the basis for the “tense situation” is America’s military encroachment in the area and its decision to “unreasonably” make accusations about Chinese activity. It claims that “instability and security risks” are coming “mainly from outside the region.”
Japan and China are locked in a dispute over a territory known as the Senkaku Islands by Tokyo and Diaoyu Islands by Beijing. In recent years, China has imposed an Air Defense Identification Zone over the islands and authorized its coast guard to use lethal force in the area if vessels violate Beijing’s “national sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction.”
China has argued that its ‘nine-dash line’ of demarcation, which extends up to 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles)from the Chinese mainland and covers 90% of the disputed water, gives it historic rights to control the area, which is a key trade route for Beijing and other nations.
Canberra’s decision to support the joint military drills comes weeks after Australian Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo warned that “the drums of war beat” in the South China Sea, a statement supported by the nation’s home affairs minister and defense minister.
China has expressed a desire to cool tensions with Australia, saying toward the end of 2020 that it wants relations to “come back to the right track as early as possible.”
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