Adding to tensions in the Pacific between the US and China, the head of US forces in Japan said on Monday that US troops could be sent to defend the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The islands, known as Diaoyus in China, are at the center of a maritime dispute between Tokyo and Beijing.
“Our arrival today was simply to demonstrate the ability to move a few people but the same capability could be used to deploy combat troops to defend the Senkaku Islands or respond to other crisis and contingencies,” Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider said. The commander also rattled off a list of what he called “malign activities” by Beijing in the region.
Schneider made the comments from the deck of a Japanese destroyer in waters south of Japan, kicking off Keen Sword 21, a massive naval exercise conducted jointly by the US and Japan. The 10-day military exercises are held every other year. This year’s drills will involve 9,000 US troops, about 37,000 Japanese troops, and 20 ships and 170 aircraft.
A military confrontation between Japan and China over the Senkakus could draw in the US due to a mutual defense treaty between Washington and Tokyo.
The Senkakus is just one maritime dispute between China and its neighbors the US has involved itself in. The US has stepped up military activity in the South China Sea, where Beijing and several Southeast Asian countries have overlapping claims. In July, the US formally rejected most of Beijing’s claims to the waters.
The US, Japan, India, and Australia make up an informal alliance known as the Quad. The US is looking to turn this group into a more formal security alliance to counter Beijing in the region. Next month, Australia will join the other Quad countries in the annual Malabar naval exercises off of India’s coast for the first time since 2007. It will be the first time the four countries conduct multilateral military exercises together in recent years.