US and Japan scrap naval drill in bid to ease islands tension with China
Japan and the United States have called off a joint naval exercise planned for next month in a bid to avoid irritating China and escalating their ongoing territorial dispute in the East China Sea, Japanese media reported.
Citing a Japanese government source, the Tokyo-based Jiji Press said the decision to skip the drill on November 5-16 "reflects the decision of [the] prime minister's office". The two navies had intended to rehearse the recapture of a remote island not unlike one of the disputed Diaoyu Islands.
Some Japanese feared the exercise on Okinawa prefecture's Irisunajima Island would further anger Beijing, especially because it would have conflicted with the Communist Party's once-in-a-decade leadership reshuffle.
Chinese experts on Sino-Japanese affairs said cancelling the drill would help ratchet down tensions between Beijing and Tokyo, which have been running high ever since Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced the purchase of three of the islands from their private Japanese owner last month.
"The cancellation is a smart decision made by Tokyo, as their scheduled drill time will overlap with next month's 18th Communist Party congress in Beijing," said Professor Niu Zhongjun , an international relations specialist at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing.
"During such a sensitive period, any provocative moves [from] Japan will further trigger outrage in China, pushing Beijing to take tough reactions to assuage public anger."
No official was immediately available for comment at the Japanese Defence Ministry.
But Professor Peng Xi , of Nanjing University's Institute of Japanese Studies, said that Beijing would not take lightly the threat from Japan.
"Our challenges in the Diaoyus dispute are still there, as the US has reiterated that the Japan-US security treaty covers the waters of the Diaoyus," Peng said.
The Jiji Press report speculated that local opposition to the US military presence in Okinawa, which flared up after two US servicemen's arrest on Tuesday on charges of raping a Japanese woman, may have also been a factor in the decision.
Nonetheless, the US military continued to project force in other ways. The USS George Washington aircraft carrier sailed through the South China Sea - not far from the Scarborough Shoal - on its way to Manila.
The shoal, known as Huangyan Island in China and Panatag Shoal in the Philippines, is claimed by Beijing and Manila.
Vietnamese security and government officials were flown onto the nuclear-powered ship, underlining the burgeoning military relationship between the former enemies.
Captain Gregory Fenton said the mission was aimed in part at improving relations with Vietnam and ensuring the US had free passage in the South China Sea.
"It is our goal to see the region's nations figure out these tensions ... on their own, our role [in] that to date is to conduct freedom-of-navigation exercises within international waters," Fenton said in an interview on the bridge.
China's State Oceanic Administration confirmed yesterday that four of its surveillance ships have returned to Diaoyu waters to continue regular patrols.
Meanwhile, Xinhua reported that two bases for civilian marine surveillance and weather observation drones would be established in Liaoning province to monitor the country's coast.
Associated Press, Bloomberg