A CH-47 transport helicopter carrying dozens of Japanese, U.S. and French troops lands in a grassy area in a training area in southern Japan in pouring rain. It was part of a joint exercise conducted by Japan, the United States and France on Saturday to defend remote islands from enemy incursions.
The three countries began their first joint military exercise (code-named “ARC21”) in Japan on Tuesday. The three countries have strengthened their military ties due to China’s increasingly assertive actions in the region.
Japanese soldiers and their counterparts from the French army and U.S. Marines also conducted urban warfare exercises using concrete buildings at the Japan Self-Defense Forces Kirishima training area in southern Miyazaki Prefecture. About 200 soldiers took part in Saturday’s exercise.
On Saturday, Australia joined the three countries in a maritime military exercise involving 11 ships in the East China Sea. Tensions with China are rising around the island of Taiwan.
Japan wants to boost its military capabilities amid a deepening territorial dispute with China in the waters. Japan is increasingly concerned about Chinese activity in waters around the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, over which Japan claims sovereignty.
Since the end of World War II, Japan’s constitution has limited the use of force to self-defense. In recent years, Japan has been expanding its military role, capabilities and budget.
Japanese Vice Defense Minister Yasuhide Nakayama, who observed the exercise, stressed the importance of France’s participation in the regular Japan-U.S. joint exercises.
“This is a valuable opportunity for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to maintain and strengthen its strategic capabilities necessary to defend our remote islands,” Nakayama said.
He said, “Together, we can demonstrate to the rest of the world our commitment to defend Japan’s territory, territorial waters and airspace.”
France has dependencies in the Indian Ocean and South Pacific, making the region of strategic interest to it.
“It’s obviously important for us because we need to fight alongside the people who share this part of the world,” Lt. Col. Henri Makailo of the French Army told reporters after Saturday’s exercise.
U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Jeremy Nelson said the three nations showed they can work together “for a common goal or a common cause.
Britain has recently adopted a policy of deeper engagement in the region. The British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and its battle group are scheduled to arrive in the region later this year. Germany will also deploy frigates to the region.
Japan and the United States have been advocating the concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific defense and economic framework based on democratic principles. The “Quad” (Quad) grouping of Japan, the United States, Australia and India is seen as a response to China’s growing influence in the region.