TOKYO (AFP) - The United States military will conduct its first ever missile drill around the Japanese island of Okinawa this year, according to a report on Thursday (Jan 3), as Washington seeks to counter an increasingly assertive China.
The US military has told its Japanese counterpart that it plans to deploy surface-to-ship missiles in strategically important Okinawa this year, in the first such drill by Japan's key ally, the Sankei Shimbun reported, without citing sources.
The drill would involve a mobile rocket launcher seen as a countermeasure to potential attacks from Chinese surface-to-sea ballistic missiles, the paper said.
In recent years, Chinese warships have frequently sailed through waters near Okinawa, where the majority of US troops in Japan are based.
Experts say China's increasingly active maritime activities are part of a plan to establish control of waters within the so-called "first island chain" that links Okinawa, Taiwan and the Philippines.
Some analysts believe Beijing seeks to end US military dominance in the western Pacific by exerting control of the second island chain that links Japan's southern Ogasawara island chain, the US territory of Guam, and Indonesia.
China's rapid military build-up has unnerved Asian neighbours, with Japan's defence chief saying last year that China had been "unilaterally escalating" its military activities in the previous year.
Beijing insists the activities are for self defence.
Despite increasing military rivalry, the US and China are each other's largest trading partners and China is one of largest holders of US national debt.
A massive bilateral trade imbalance has however caused frictions between the world's top two economies, with Washington and Beijing imposing tit-for-tat tariffs on more than US$300 billion (S$410 billion) worth of goods in total two-way trade last year.