- Japan and China have been involved in a long-running dispute over the sovereignty of a small archipelago between the nations
- The military exercises underline Japan’s resolve to protect the integrity of its territory
Japanese and US military units have for the first time carried out joint manoeuvres using anti-shipping missiles, simulating a response to a seaborne invasion of Japanese territory.
The exercises were conducted this week at the Oyanohara training facility in Kyushu, southern Japan, underlining Tokyo's resolve to protect the integrity of its territory, in particular its outlying islands.
Japan and China are involved in a long-running dispute over the sovereignty of the small archipelago between the nations. Known as the Diaoyus in China, the chain of uninhabited islands is referred to as the Senkakus in Japan.
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A unit of Japan's Ground Self-Defence Forces (GSDF) fired a number of Type 12 surface-to-ship missiles during the exercise, while US Army units used the high-mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS). The launches were part of ongoing Orient Shield 19 drills.
"This is clearly designed to serve as a demonstration of alliance cooperation and the developing capability of Japan's ground forces to project defensive power throughout the western territories of Japan," said Garren Mulloy, a professor of international relations at Daito Bunka University and an expert on defence issues.
"No one in government or the military is stating that this is about China, but it's obvious that there is a message here."
The US has some of the most sophisticated weapons systems in the world but Mulloy said the US will have on this occasion taken some cues from Japan.
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"The GSDF can be considered the innovators in this situation and they are far ahead of the US with these sorts of ground-based anti-shipping missiles," he said.
The Type 12 missile is superior to its US counterparts, with a theoretical range of more than 100km. The best comparable US system has a range of 50km but its effective range is much shorter.
In recent years, Chinese warships have repeatedly entered Japan's declared territorial waters around the disputed islands and have sailed through the channel separating the main Okinawa island and Miyakojima to the south. In 2018, Japanese forces detected a nuclear submarine in waters off Okinawa. Japanese officials said the vessel was Chinese.
In April, Takeshi Iwaya " defence minister at the time " visited Miyakojima and described it as "Japan's forefront line of defence".
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The ministry previously announced plans to build a military base with radar facilities on the island, although the base will now be equipped with an upgraded version of the Type 12 anti-shipping missile. The weapon has an effective range of up to 300km. The Diaoyu Islands are about 200km from Miyakojima.
Beijing has made no comment about the latest GSDF missile tests.
"They may not have said anything but this will not have been overlooked in Beijing," Mulloy said. "Everything will have been noted."
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