October 21, 2014 / 12:17 PM / 3 years ago

U.S., Japan to conduct joint military drill for island defense

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan said on Tuesday it would hold a bilateral military exercise with the United States in November to ensure smooth joint operations between the two countries’ militaries and bolster island defense capabilities.

Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force soldiers ride on a high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (Humvee) during an annual training session near Mount Fuji at Higashifuji training field in Gotemba, west of Tokyo, August 19, 2014. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

The field drill, called “Keen Sword”, is held every two years. It comes as Japan is engaged in a bitter island row with China, which is rapidly ramping up military spending, and amid concern over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

The joint exercise, set to run from Nov. 8 through Nov. 19, is not targeted at any particular country, a Japanese Defence Ministry official said. About 10,000 U.S. troops and 30,700 Japanese service men and women will participate in the drill.

The maritime portion of “Keen Sword” will be held east of Japan’s major southern island of Kyushu, but not in the East China Sea, which lies to the other side of the island, the Defence Ministry said.

Tension between China and Japan flared after Tokyo in 2012 nationalized three of the disputed East China Sea islands, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

Patrol ships and military aircraft from both countries have routinely shadowed each other near the tiny, uninhabited islands since then, stoking fears that an unintended collision or other incident could develop into a larger clash.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took a historic step away from Japan’s post-war pacifism in July by ending a ban that has kept its military from fighting abroad.

The move was welcomed by the United States, Japan’s security ally, but angered China, whose ties with Japan have frayed over the territorial dispute and the legacy of past Japanese military aggression.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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