World Bulletin / News Desk
Japan is set to join two military exercises alongside the United States next month, amid regional tensions with North Korea and China.
Local news agency Kyodo reported Monday that the allies are due to hold a “missile warning exercise” with South Korea in Hawaii, and a naval exercise with India in waters near Japan’s southern Okinawa Prefecture.
The agency quoted a South Korean defense ministry spokesperson as saying that the missile warning exercise had been decided on “to better defend South Korea from ever-increasing nuclear and missile threats from North Korea”.
It also cited an unnamed Japanese government source as saying that the naval drills would serve to enhance cooperation between Japan, the U.S. and India in maritime security, while “keeping in check China’s expanding maritime activities in the East and South China seas”.
The source said Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force plans to increase its level of enrollment in Exercise Malabar, which has been held by the U.S. and India since 1992 and with Japan’s participation over the last two years.
Japan’s participation in the June drills comes at a time when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been working toward expanding the role of the self-defense forces after his cabinet decided in 2014 to re-interpret the country’s pacifist post-World War II constitution.
In December, the cabinet also approved a record defense budget of around $42 billion for the 2016 fiscal year, marking an increase for the fourth straight year.
In past weeks, South Korea’s defense ministry has been anticipating a fifth ever nuclear test by North Korea in addition to other provocations.
Pyongyang was hit with strengthened United Nations sanctions for its claimed hydrogen bomb test in January, and conducted a flurry of failed projectile exercises in April.
Japan and the U.S. have also been expressing alarm at China’s maritime expansion, which they suspect is aimed at extending its military reach.
China considers almost the entire resource-rich South China Sea its territory, despite overlapping claims with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.
Beijing also has conflicting claims with Tokyo in the East China Sea to the uninhabited Senkakus islands — known as the Diaoyu islands in China — that are controlled by Japan despite China and Taiwan each claiming the territory as its own.
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