Big Exercise, Low Profile, In Japan-China Dispute

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U.S. Navy

U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships underway in Japan waters during Keen Sword exercise in December 2010.

TOKYO – One of the largest-ever joint training exercises between U.S. and Japanese troops is underway in and around the Japanese home islands – but you won’t hear a lot about it.  And for that you can credit tensions with China.

More than 47,000 U.S. and Japanese troops, scores of warships and hundreds of combat aircraft are taking part in the exercise, which runs through November 16. The plan is to test the ability of U.S. and Japanese forces to respond to a variety of air, sea and land threats.

The so-called Keen Sword exercise is held every two years, but comes this year at a particularly sensitive time.  Japanese and Chinese patrol ships are engaged in a dangerous game of cat and mouse around disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Japan insists the islands, which it calls Senkaku, are Japanese territory, and has maintained a steady presence of Coast Guard vessels offshore. China also claims the islands, which it calls Diaoyu, and has been sending maritime surveillance vessels into or near territorial waters almost daily. There have been no direct clashes so far, but tensions remain high.

The row was triggered when Japan’s national government in September agreed to buy the islands from private owners, and Tokyo has been struggling to lower the temperature ever since.

Authorities last month quietly canceled what would have been a centerpiece of this year’s Keen Sword exercise — an amphibious landing with Marines and Japanese ground troops. They also are restricting news coverage of the exercise, which has been widely publicized in the past. Both moves were clearly designed to avoid further antagonizing the Chinese.

Politically, that was smart, says Alessio Patalano, a lecturer at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, and a specialist in East Asian security and naval strategy.

“With no amphibious exercise, no one in China can claim that the U.S. and Japan are showing an aggressive behavior and that prevents the more conservative voices in China from gaining points,” says Patalano.

But militarily, maybe not so smart.

The Japan Self Defense Forces have been trying to develop an amphibious warfare capability since 2007, and the joint landings with Marines would have been the most ambitious training effort yet. Japan’s southern islands stretch some 700 miles (1,126 km) from the main islands and are largely undefended.

“Cancelling the amphibious landing was a serious mistake,” says Jun Kitamura, a naval consultant who splits time between Tokyo and Southern California.  “It puts a crimp in the JSDF’s efforts to build an amphibious capability of its own and it sends a message to that if China takes the offensive, Japan will back off.”

Mid-level diplomats from China and Japan have been meeting this week to try to defuse the dispute, but no progress has been announced.

U.S. and Japanese force may have another crack at storming ashore early next year. Discussions are underway to send a Japanese amphibious landing ship and some 300 ground troops to take part in the Marine’s Dawn Blitz  exercise in Southern California in February.

And the Chinese? They’re conducting a large-scale amphibious landing exercise in the South China Sea, this week.  Not sure how much we’re going to hear about that one, either.


All three parties, China,  Taiwan and Japan should jointly give sovereignty to the Republic if Nauru.  Nauru makes a cottage industry of recognizing rouge countries anyway.  Nauru formally recognizes the ROC, (which is the actual claimant against Japan while China waits in the wings).   Nauru could get 12 mile sovereign boundary and midpoint economic boundaries with exclusive rights to joint partner for development in their respective areas.  

All three warring countries can look charitable to a struggling Pacific Island Nation and yet have the satisfaction that none of the original three won or lost.  Just a thought


I have a question.... doesn't China know that USA owns a few of those islands too? Technically Japan owns half and USA also owns half. I guess it's like a friendship thing.. or idk. but anyway this is one reason why USA is being a part of this. Another reason is because Japan and USA are very good allies so hopefully they will stay as faithful allies forever lol. I am a Japanese and I support Japan the most and I don't want it to get destroyed just because of stupid islands hiding some valuable resources which is the reason why China wants it. I understand that the Chinese civilians do not know the truth (I will not get into detail) but to answer the "Japan killed many innocent Chinese, blah blah", thank you... like you guys never killed innocent people and invaded other countries. The china we know now isn't really "china" it's China plus several countries that were invaded. So, I don't think it is right to blame Japanese for what we supposedly did when you guys killed MUCH more people from different countries to make yourself "china". And for your info, most of the rude "Japanese" you see in Japan aren't really japanese. they are zainichi. so your "aggression blooming greater and greater everyday" is false, xjyuan1158. Also, I don't see Japanese people burning Chinese flags and killing Chinese or destroying Chinese related things or shops. hmmmm strange.

Anyway, I wish to have peace with China and other countries so we can all live happily, but in the mean time, Ganbare USA and Japan!


American people need to understand that nobody in China dares give in to Japanese claim to our ancestor's Diaoyu Islands. Japan is trying to drag Americans into a situation which will make confrontation between China and US inevitable, thus bleeding American resources and permanently damage American national interests. Unlike the so-called sovereign nations of the conquered native Indians inside U.S. who can be appeased by a few casinos, Chinese nation regards its territorial integrity as the most sacred. Americans and Japanese should stop daydreaming about Chinese potential compromise over territorial issues and instead return gracefully Diaoyu Islands to China like the British did in the case of Hong Kong. The Japanese invaders massacred more than 20 million Chinese unarmed civilians during its occupation of much of my poor but beloved motherland, China. After such bloody lesson, nobody should ever expect Chinese to give up any opportunity to build up a strong national defense to defend ourselves against another Japanese aggression which looming greater and greater every day.  

BobWilliamKnight 1 Like

@xjyuan1158 the evil Japanese who you speak of are dead .  trying to STEAL SENKAKU like you did to Tibet not gonna work .china has no proof of ownership just phoney map they make last year  lol  don't worry USA has plenty of Chinas money,lol to spend  on protecting  sacred Senkaku

dragonflown 1 Like

“Itputs a crimp in the JSDF’s efforts to build an amphibious capability of its ownand it sends a message to that if China takes the offensive, Japan will backoff.”

Not really,  amphibious landing capability is unnecessary in any sort of conflict over the uninhabited Senkaku islands. Naval and Airforce capability are really the only realms that matter because an amphibious landing force will not survive without constant resupply, and those exercises remain.


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