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Japan and U.S. hold joint drills in Okinawa

The Air Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Air Force have conducted joint search and rescue exercises in Okinawa Prefecture for the first time ever, the Defense Ministry said Thursday.

The drills took place in the skies and seas north of Ishigaki and Miyako islands on Tuesday.

People familiar with the matter said they were held in anticipation of a contingency around not only the Senkaku Islands, some 170 kilometers away from Ishigaki, but also nearby Taiwan.

National security laws allow the SDF to conduct search and rescue operations and give rearguard support to the U.S. military in dealing with incidents having “significant influence” on Japan’s peace and security. An armed attack on Taiwan could be regarded as such an incident due to its proximity to the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China.

The drills were joined by the ASDF’s UH-60J helicopters from the Naha base in Okinawa Prefecture and the U.S. Air Force’s CV-22 Ospreys for special operations and MC-130J transport planes.

“The exercises were aimed at improving the Japan-U.S. alliance’s deterrence and joint response capabilities,” Shunji Izutsu, ASDF chief of staff, told reporters.

According to the ministry, Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and Gen. Koji Yamazaki, chief of staff at the ministry’s Joint Staff, visited the Ground SDF’s Camp Amami in Kagoshima Prefecture, the ASDF’s Naha base and the GSDF’s Camp Yonaguni, both in Okinawa Prefecture, on Monday and Tuesday.

The drills and the inspection tour are believed to have been aimed at deterring China’s active expansion of its military presence in the East China Sea, people familiar with the matter said.

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