Japan to join U.S., Australia war games amid growing China tensions

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U.S., China Set for High-Stakes Rivalry in Skies Above South China Sea


Japan will join a major U.S.-Australian military exercise for the first time in a sign of growing security links between the three countries as tensions fester over China's island building in the South China Sea.

While only 40 Japanese officers and soldiers will take part in drills involving 30,000 U.S. and Australian troops in early July, experts said the move showed how Washington wanted to foster cooperation among its security allies in Asia.

The Talisman Sabre biennial exercises, to be held in locations around Australia, will encompass maritime operations, amphibious landings, special forces tactics and urban warfare.

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Disputes over islands in the South China Sea
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Japan to join U.S., Australia war games amid growing China tensions
This areal photo taken through a glass window of a military plane shows China's alleged on-going reclamation of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea Monday, May 11, 2015. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, the Philippines' military chief, has flown to Pag-asa Island, a Filipino-occupied island in the South China Sea amid territorial disputes in the area with China, vowing to defend the islet and help the mayor develop tourism and marine resources there. (Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool Photo via AP)
SUBI REEF, SOUTH CHINA SEA - SEPTEMBER 1, 2015: DigitalGlobe high-resolution imagery of the Subi Reef in the South China Sea, a part of the Spratly Islands group. Image progression. Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images.
FIERY CROSS REEF, SOUTH CHINA SEA - SEPTEMBER 3, 2015: DigitalGlobe imagery of the nearly completed construction within the Fiery Cross Reef located in the South China Sea. Fiery Cross is located in the western part of the Spratly Islands group. Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images.
SUBI REEF, SOUTH CHINA SEA - MARCH 17, 2015: DigitalGlobe imagery of the Subi Reef in the South China Sea, a part of the Spratly Islands group. Image progression #2 of 3. Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images.
SUBI REEF, SOUTH CHINA SEA - AUGUST 1, 2015: DigitalGlobe imagery of the Subi Reef in the South China Sea, a part of the Spratly Islands group. Close up image 2 of 2. Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images.
SUBI REEF, SOUTH CHINA SEA - SEPTEMBER 1, 2015: DigitalGlobe high-resolution imagery of the Subi Reef in the South China Sea, a part of the Spratly Islands group. Image progression. Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images.
SUBI REEF, SOUTH CHINA SEA - AUGUST 1, 2015: DigitalGlobe imagery of the Subi Reef in the South China Sea, a part of the Spratly Islands group. Close up image 1 of 2. Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images.
Map locates mad-made islands in South China Sea; 1c x 3 inches; 46.5 mm x 76 mm;
In this April 8, 2008, file photo, guided missile destroyer USS Lassen arrives at the Shanghai International Passenger Quay in Shanghai, China, for a scheduled port visit. Just two days after the USS Lassen sailed past one of China's artificial islands in the South China Sea in a challenge to Chinese sovereignty claims, Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Yang Yujun said Thursday that China will take "all necessary" measures in response to any future U.S. Navy incursions into what it considers its territorial waters around the islands. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)
Philippine and US Marines aboard riverine patrol boats take position during a beach landing as part of their annual joint naval exercises at a marine base in Ternate, Cavite province, west of Manila on October 8, 2015. The Philippines in late August asked the US to provide military 'assistance' in resupplying and rotating Manila's forces in the South China Sea because they face harassment from regional power China, a military spokesman said . AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
Philippine and US Marines board riverine patrol boats during a beach landing exercise as part of their annual joint naval exercises at a marine base in Ternate, Cavite province, west of Manila on October 8, 2015. The Philippines in late August asked the US to provide military 'assistance' in resupplying and rotating Manila's forces in the South China Sea because they face harassment from regional power China, a military spokesman said . AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
Philippine Marines maneuver during a live fire exercise as part of the US-Philippines annual joint naval exercises facing the South China Sea at a naval training center in San Marcelino, north of Manila on October 9, 2015. The Philippines in late August asked the US to provide military 'assistance' in resupplying and rotating Manila's forces in the South China Sea because they face harassment from regional power China, a military spokesman said. AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
The Philippine Navy's World War II-vintage warship BRP Rajah Humabon is anchored during the navy's founding anniversary celebration at a naval station in Cavite city, west of Manila on May 25, 2015 with buildings along Roxas boulevard in Manila in the background. The Philippine navy is one of the weakest in the region relying mostly on decades-old, surplus US warships, but the Philippine government has been modernising the navy and other branches of the armed forces in the face of China's increasing aggressiveness in trying to claim most of the South China sea. AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
A U.S. Navy's amphibious assault vehicle with Philippine and U.S. troops on board storms the beach at a combined assault exercise at a beach facing one of the contested islands in the South China Sea known as the Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at the Naval Education and Training Command at San Antonio township, Zambales province, northwest of Manila, Philippines. More than ten thousand troops from both the US and Philippine militaries are taking part in the annual military drill that focuses on regional security, terrorism, disaster preparedness and inter-operability of both countries. AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Philippine Marines take position next to a US Marine assault amphibious vehicles (AAV) during a live-fire exercise as part of the US-Philippines annual joint naval exercises facing the South China Sea at a naval training center in San Marcelino, north of Manila on October 9, 2015. The Philippines in late August asked the US to provide military 'assistance' in resupplying and rotating Manila's forces in the South China Sea because they face harassment from regional power China, a military spokesman said. AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
Philippine Marines simulate a beach landing exercise as part of their annual joint naval exercises with the US at a marine base in Ternate, Cavite province, west of Manila on October 8, 2015. The Philippines in late August asked the US to provide military 'assistance' in resupplying and rotating Manila's forces in the South China Sea because they face harassment from regional power China, a military spokesman said . AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Navy's amphibious assault vehicles with Philippine and US troops on board maneuver in the waters prior to storming the beach at a combined assault exercise at a beach facing one of the contested islands in the South China Sea known as the Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at the Naval Education and Training Command at San Antonio township, Zambales province, northwest of Manila, Philippines. More than ten thousand troops from both the U.S. and Philippine militaries are taking part in the annual military drill that focuses on regional security, terrorism, disaster preparedness and inter-operability of both countries. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Philippine Marines cheer as a U.S. Navy AAV (Amphibious Assault Vehicle) storms the beach during a combined assault exercise facing one of the contested islands in the South China Sea known as the Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at the Naval Education and Training Command at San Antonio township, Zambales province, northwest of Manila, Philippines. More than ten thousand troops from both the U.S. and Philippine militaries are taking part in the annual military drill that focuses on regional security, terrorism, disaster preparedness and inter-operability of both countries. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
This areal photo taken through a glass window of a military plane shows the dilapidated Sierra Madre ship of the Philippine Navy anchored near Ayungin Shoal with Filipino soldiers onboard to secure perimeter in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea Modnay, May 11, 2015. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, the Philippines' military chief, has flown to Pag-asa Island, a Filipino-occupied island in the South China Sea amid territorial disputes in the area with China, vowing to defend the islet and help the mayor develop tourism and marine resources there. (Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool Photo via AP)
Philippine Marines watch U.S. Navy amphibious assault vehicles storm the beach during a combined assault exercise facing one of the contested islands in the South China Sea known as the Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at the Naval Education and Training Command at San Antonio township, Zambales province, northwest of Manila, Philippines. More than ten thousand troops from both the U.S. and Philippine militaries are taking part in the annual military drill that focuses on regional security, terrorism, disaster preparedness and inter-operability of both countries. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
A Filipino resident, center, and soldiers conduct a flag raising ceremony during the visit of Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, the Philippines' military chief, to Pag-asa Island in the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines Monday, May 11, 2015. Catapang has flown to a Filipino-occupied island in the South China Sea amid territorial disputes in the area with China, vowing to defend the islet and help the mayor develop tourism and marine resources there. (Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool Photo via AP)
U.S. Navy's amphibious assault vehicles with Philippine and U.S. troops on board maneuver in the waters prior to storming the beach at a combined assault exercise at a beach facing one of the contested islands in the South China Sea known as the Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at the Naval Education and Training Command at San Antonio township, Zambales province, northwest of Manila, Philippines. More than ten thousand troops from both the US and Philippine militaries are taking part in the annual military drill that focuses on regional security, terrorism, disaster preparedness and inter-operability of both countries. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Filipino soldier Tychico Octobre patrols the shore of Pag-asa Island during the visit of Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, the Philippines' military chief, to the island in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, western Palawan Province, Philippines Monday, May 11, 2015. Catapang has flown to a Filipino-occupied island in the South China Sea amid territorial disputes in the area with China, vowing to defend the islet and help the mayor develop tourism and marine resources there. (Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool Photo via AP)
Filipino environmental activists display placards during a rally outside China's consular office in Manila on May 11, 2015, against China's reclamation and construction activities on islands and reefs in the Spratly Group of the South China Sea that are also claimed by the Philippines. The group is accusing China of destroying the fragile ecosystem and livelihood of fishermen during their reclamation project. AFP PHOTO / Jay DIRECTO (Photo credit should read JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images)
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"I think the U.S. is trying to get its allies to do more," said Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney.

"There is an obvious symmetry between Japan as the upper anchor of the Western Pacific alliance and ... Australia as the southern anchor."

All three nations have said they were concerned about freedom of movement through the seas and air in the disputed South China Sea, where China is creating seven artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago, a vital shipping corridor.

Some security experts say China might impose air and sea restrictions in the Spratlys once it completes construction work that includes at least one military airstrip. China has said it had every right to set up an Air Defence Identification Zone but that current conditions did not warrant one.

China claims most of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims.

The Japanese personnel will embed with U.S. forces while 500 New Zealand troops will join Australian contingents, according to the Australian Defence Force website.

Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani rebuffed suggestions the exercises were aimed at China, telling Reuters that Japan simply wanted to improve military cooperation with the United States and Australia.

"UNPRECEDENTED TRILATERAL COOPERATION"

Security cooperation between Canberra and Tokyo has already flourished under Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and Shinzo Abe, with Japan seen as the frontrunner to win a contract to supply next generation submarines to the Australian navy. U.S. commanders have publicly supported such a tie-up.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense David Shear highlighted Washington's goal of boosting cooperation between its allies in testimony to the U.S. Senate this month.

"To expand the reach of these alliances, we are embarking on unprecedented trilateral cooperation," he said.

"In some cases this cooperation directly benefits our work on maritime security. For example, we're cooperating trilaterally with Japan and Australia to strengthen maritime security in Southeast Asia and explore defense technology cooperation."

Winning the submarine deal would be a big boost for Japan's defense industry and potentially pave the way for the sale of advanced Japanese weapons to countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam, which are at loggerheads with Beijing over the South China Sea, experts have said.

Australia also hopes to sign a deal with Japan this year that would smooth the passage of military personnel into one another's country for joint exercises, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported over the weekend.

Deals such as this would likely become more common as Abbott and Abe push to cement the security ties they have fostered before they leave office, said the Lowy Institute's Graham.

"There will be more of this, and it's important in the next couple of years that the relationship beds in because otherwise ... you could quickly find it isn't a self-sustaining relationship," he said.

(Additional reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo in TOKYO; Editing by Dean Yates)

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