Japan, US stage joint island retaking drill in California

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan and the United States have started a joint drill to practise retaking remote islands, the Japanese government said on Tuesday, as Tokyo and Beijing continue to face off over a disputed island chain.

Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera, who has previously stressed "Dawn Blitz" was not aimed at China, told reporters that the joint exercise was designed to "significantly contribute to our capability".

It is the first time all the three arms of Japan's Self Defence Forces - army, navy and airforce - have taken part together in a drill based on the US mainland.

Of some 1,000 Japanese personnel participating in the multi-national amphibious exercise, the bulk are naval troops from three destroyers of the Maritime Self Defence Force, according to Japanese media.

Canada, New Zealand and military observers from seven other nations are also taking part in the US-led exercise in California, which will last until June 28 according to the US Marine Corps. Japan's participation lasts until June 26.

The exercise comes as Beijing and Tokyo remain at loggerheads over the ownership of Tokyo-administered islands - known as Senkaku by the Japanese and Diaoyu by the Chinese - in the East China Sea, with frequent confrontations between official ships from the two sides.

The United States has repeatedly said it did not take a position on the sovereignty of the disputed islands, but has said they are covered by a mutual defence treaty.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, seen as a hardliner against China, has stepped up defence spending by the world's third largest economy and taken an uncompromising stance on the islands.

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