US and Japan waging war games amid growing tensions between China and Taiwan

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The United States and Japan have waged joint war games and military exercises in the event of conflict with China over Taiwan, amid growing concern over assertive activity by the Chinese military.

U.S. and Japanese military officials began seriously planning for a possible conflict in the last year of the Trump administration, according to six people who requested anonymity. The activity includes top secret tabletop war games and joint exercises in the South China and East China Seas.

Shinzo Abe, then Japanese Prime Minister, decided in 2019 to significantly expand military planning due to the Chinese threat against Taiwan and the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. This work continued under the administrations of Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, according to three of those with knowledge of the matter.

The United States and Japan expressed alarm as China sent more fighter jets and bombers to Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, including a record 28 fighters on June 15. The Chinese Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard have also become increasingly active around Senkaku, administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan.

China insists it wants to unify Taiwan with the mainland. If he says he wants a peaceful unification, he does not exclude the use of force to take control of Taiwan.

“In many ways, the People’s Liberation Army has led the United States and Japan together and into a new thinking about Taiwan,” said Randy Schriver, who has served as the top Pentagon official for Asia. ‘at the end of 2019. “The assertiveness around Senkaku and Taiwan at the same time highlights the issue of proximity.

The United States has long wanted Japan, an ally of the Mutual Defense Treaty, to conduct more joint military planning, but Japan was limited by its pacifist post-war constitution. This obstacle was lifted, but not removed, when the Abe government in 2015 reinterpreted the constitution to allow Japan to defend its attacked allies.

As the two allies began to step up their joint planning, Japan asked the United States to share its war plan on Taiwan, but the Pentagon objected because it wanted to focus on strengthening planning between them. two countries in phases. A former U.S. official said the end goal was for the two allies to create an integrated war plan for Taiwan.

Two of the six people said the US military and Japanese Self-Defense Forces conducted joint exercises in the South China Sea that were billed as disaster relief training. They have also organized more military exercises around the Senkaku, which also helps prepare for any conflict with China over Taiwan, which is just 350 km west of the islands.

“Some of the activities we train on are highly fungible,” said Schriver, adding that exercises such as an amphibious landing in a “disaster relief scenario” would be “directly applicable” to any conflict around the Senkaku. or the Taiwan Strait.

Mark Montgomery, a retired admiral who commanded the USS George Washington aircraft carrier strike group and was director of operations at Indo-Pacific Command between 2014 and 2017, said the Pentagon needed a “comprehensive understanding “of the support that Japan could provide in the event of a conflict.

Tensions are mounting on the Senkaku Islands, administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan © Kyodo via Reuters

“As a crisis develops and Japan is potentially attracted as a participant, the United States will need to understand how Japan could support or enable American operations,” he added.

U.S. and Japanese diplomats are reviewing legal issues related to any joint military action, including access to bases and the type of logistical support Japan could provide to U.S. forces engaged in a conflict with China.

In the event of war against Taiwan, the United States would rely on air bases in Japan. But it increases the chances that Tokyo will be drawn into the conflict, especially if China tries to destroy the bases in an attempt to hamper the United States.

An official said the United States and Japan urgently need to create a trilateral sharing mechanism with Taiwan to obtain information on the movements of the Chinese Navy and Air Force, especially around the Miyako Strait in the east of Taiwan, which is covered by northeast Japanese and Taiwanese sensors. sensors from the southwest.

“Some of this data is shared between Taiwan and the United States, and between Japan and the United States. But we don’t have direct trilateral sharing, ”the official said. “You can’t start putting this in place in the middle of an eventuality. You have to do it now.

Another official said the three countries took a small but important step in 2017 by agreeing to share military aircraft codes to help identify friendly aircraft.

Taiwanese officials and US and Japanese sources said cooperation has since grown considerably, spurred by growing awareness in Japan of the importance of Taiwan – which is 110 km from Yonaguni, the island’s most significant. westernmost part of the Japanese archipelago – for his own safety.

“The Japanese government has increasingly recognized, and even publicly acknowledged, that defending Taiwan equates defending Japan,” said Heino Klinck, a former senior Pentagon official who oversaw military relations with Japan and Taiwan from the end of 2019 until the end of the Trump administration.

Japan’s Defense Ministry said Tokyo and Washington continued to update their joint planning after the 2015 review of guidelines underpinning the military alliance, but declined to provide details. The Pentagon made no comment.

To pursue Demetri Sebastopulo and Catherine hille on Twitter

Additional reporting by Robin Harding in Tokyo



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