By Shigemi Sato
National Oct. 24, 2013 – 05:20PM JST
Destroyers, fighter jets and 34,000 troops will take part in a huge exercise aimed at bolstering Japan’s ability to protect its remote islands, the government said Thursday, amid a territorial dispute with China.
The war games, which will include live-firing, come as Tokyo steps up its global PR campaign by posting online videos it hopes will swing world opinion behind its claims to two archipelagos that are disputed with China and South Korea.
The air-sea-land drill from November 1-18 will involve amphibious landings on the uninhabited atoll of Okidaitojima, 400 kilometers southeast of the main Okinawan island, a defense ministry official said.
Live-fire exercises involving destroyers and F-2 fighter jets will also be conducted, he said.
The island is a considerable distance from the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which China also claims as the Diaoyus.
However, defense force chiefs are considering deploying short-range land-to-sea missiles on the island of Ishigaki, which lies 150 kilometers from the disputed islands, the Asahi and Fuji TV networks said. Both broadcasters said there were no plans to fire weaponry there.
Chinese state-owned ships have sparred with Japanese coastguard boats repeatedly in waters around the Senkakus since Tokyo nationalised three islands in the chain last year.
Beijing’s boats have frequently been warned off after sailing into waters Japan considers its preserve.
Fighter jets and warships from both sides have also been in the area on numerous occasions, leading some observers to warn of the danger of an armed conflict that could draw in the United States and have disastrous consequences for the region.
November’s drill is aimed at “maintaining and improving the joint operational abilities of the Self-Defense Forces in armed-attack situations”, the Self Defense Forces joint staff said in a statement.
It will feature “a series of actions in defending islands” including joint operations in island landings, it said.
There have been similar drills in the past, including one in November 2011 that involved 35,000 troops.
In November last year, U.S. and Japanese forces held a joint drill involving 47,400 troops, the vast bulk from the Japanese side. But they reportedly cancelled an exercise to re-take a remote island in a bid to avoid irritating China.
Since Shinzo Abe became prime minister in December, however, Japan has taken a more robust stance.
In its latest volley, the foreign ministry has produced two 90-second videos stating its case for ownership of the two disputed island groups and posted them on its YouTube site.
Both videos are currently only in Japanese, but the ministry plans to provide versions in 10 other languages including Chinese and Korean.
“We are also preparing three other short movies on the Senkaku islands and one on the issue of Takeshima,” a ministry spokesman told AFP, referring to a pair of islets that South Korea controls as Dokdo.
“The new ones will be just 30 seconds in length and we hope they will be watched by smartphone and tablet users.”
The ministry has earmarked 120 million yen this fiscal year for the films and creating a YouTube channel, he said.
“It is important that the international community obtain correct understanding over situations surrounding Japan including territories,” he said.
Beijing and Seoul reacted angrily to the move, with Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying repeating the assertion that the East China Sea islands belong to Beijing.
“Whatever propaganda tools Japan employs to support its illegal claim, it will not change the fact that the Diaoyu Islands belong to China,” she said.
“We strongly urge the Japanese side to correct its attitude, stop all provocative words and actions and make concrete efforts for the proper management and resolution of the question of the Diaoyu Islands.”
South Korea lodged a formal protest over the video, calling in a senior Japanese embassy official to register disapproval on Wednesday.
Foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-Young said the protest noted the Japanese government’s attempt “to undermine our sovereignty over Dokdo by spreading groundless claims over the internet”.
Japan’s latest move, officials say, is in part a reaction to advertising efforts by China.
Two-page color ads saying “Diaoyu islands belong to China” appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post last year.
(C) 2013 AFP