Japan readies huge island war games amid YouTube PR push

In this Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 file photo, a Japan Ground Self-Defense Force anti-land mine missile is launched during an annual live firing exercise at Higashi Fuji range in Gotemba, south-west of Tokyo. -- FILE PHOTO: AP
In this Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 file photo, a Japan Ground Self-Defense Force anti-land mine missile is launched during an annual live firing exercise at Higashi Fuji range in Gotemba, south-west of Tokyo. -- FILE PHOTO: AP

TOKYO (AFP) - Destroyers, fighter jets and 34,000 troops are to take part in a huge exercise aimed at bolstering Japan's ability to protect its remote islands amid a territorial spat with China.

The war games, which will include live firing, come as Tokyo steps up its global PR campaign by posting videos it hopes will swing world opinion behind its claims to two archipelagos that are the focus of disputes with Beijing and Seoul.

The air-sea-land drill from Nov 1 to Nov 18 will involve amphibious landings on the uninhabited atoll of Okidaitojima, 400km south-east of the main Okinawan island, a Defence 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 islands they call the Senkaku, which China also claims as the Diaoyus.

However, defence force chiefs are considering deploying short-range land-to-sea missiles on the island of Ishigaki, which lies 150km 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 coast guard boats repeatedly in waters around the Senkakus since Tokyo nationalised three islands in the chain.

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 the United States in and have disastrous consequences for the region.

November's drill is aimed at "maintaining and improving the joint operational abilities of the Self-Defence Forces in armed-attack situations", the Self Defence Forces (military) 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, they held a joint drill with US forces involving 47,400 troops, the vast bulk from the Japanese side, but reportedly cancelled an operation to re-take a remote island in a bid to avoid irritating China.

Since the hawkish Mr Shinzo Abe became prime minister in December, however, Japan has taken a more robust stance and actively promoted its position.

In its latest volley, the foreign ministry has produced two 90-second videos setting out its case for ownership of the two disputed island groups, posting them to its YouTube site.

Both videos are currently only in Japanese, but the ministry plans to provide versions in 10 other tongues - all six official United Nations languages, which include Chinese, as well as Portuguese, German, Korean and Italian.

"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," he added.

The ministry has earmarked 120 million yen (S$1.5 million) 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 spokesman Hua Chunying repeating the assertion that the South 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".

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