As the United States and Japan begin their first joint military exercise since Yoshihide Suga became prime minister of Japan last month, the Commander of U.S. Forces in Japan issued a stern warning to China. Lieutenant General Kevin Schneider stated that the current exercise – Keen Sword 21 – demonstrates the U.S. ability and resolve to deploy forces to “defend the Senkaku Islands” against Chinese threats.
General Schneider said, according to ABS-CBN News:
Our arrival today was simply to demonstrate the ability to move a few people, but the same capability could be used to deploy combat troops to defend the Senkaku Islands or respond to other crises and contingencies.
The Senkaku islands group of uninhabited but strategically located islands near Taiwan, belonging to Japan, but claimed by China, where they are known as the Diaoyus islands. Japan has long complained about Chinese warships sailing near the islands. In a Defense White Paper issued in July, Tokyo referenced China’s “coercive and unilateral actions.”
At the same time in July, General Schneider was equally unwavering in stating U.S. support for Japan conflict with China over the islands when he said the U.S. was “100 percent absolutely steadfast in its commitment to help” Japan.
Schneider accompanied Japan’s top military commander, General Koji Yamazaki, on board the JS Kaga helicopter carrier. The warship is the pride of the Japanese fleet (Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force – JMSDF). Officially classified as a multi-purpose operation destroyer, JS Kaga is the second ship in the Izumo class ships.
A planned future conversion will formally turn the ship into Japan’s first post-World War II aircraft carrier, carrying F-35 stealth jet fighters.
While aboard the JS Kaga, Schneider also highlighted recent “malign activities on the part of Beijing” such as the national security law imposed in Hong Kong, Beijing’s military build-up in the South China Sea, and the PLA’s threats and bullying of Taiwan.
CNN noted that the 10-day Keen Sword 21 exercise involves some 37,000 Japanese troops along with 9,000 Americans, 20 Japanese warships, the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, and 200 Japanese and U.S. aircraft. A Royal Canadian Navy frigate will also take part.
Military drills will also see amphibious landings on islands off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, east of the Senkakus, and for the first time will include cyber and electronic warfare training.