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Japanese troops head to Calif. beach for training

Posted: June 10, 2013 6:00 a.m.
Updated: June 10, 2013 6:00 a.m.
 

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Japanese troops will converge on California's southern coast in the next two weeks as part of a military exercise with U.S. troops aimed at improving that country's amphibious attack abilities.

U.S. and Japanese military officials said the unprecedented training, led by U.S. Marines and sailors, will help Japan's Self-Defense Force operate in stronger coordination with the United States, its main ally, and better respond to crises such as natural disasters.

China may see it differently, however, given the tensions between Tokyo and Beijing over a long-running dispute concerning islands claimed by both in the East China Sea.

"It's another dot that the Chinese will connect to show this significant expanding military cooperation," said Tai Ming Cheung, an analyst of Chinese and East Asian security affairs and director of the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at the University of California, San Diego.

China asked the United States and Japan to cancel the drill, scheduled to begin Tuesday, Japan's Kyodo News service reported, citing unnamed Japanese government sources. The Japanese Defense and Foreign Ministries would not confirm whether China had made any request but said they are going ahead with the exercises.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not respond to The Associated Press for comment on whether China requested a cancellation. In regard to the drill itself, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: "We hope the relevant sides can focus on peace and stability in this region, and do more to contribute to mutual trust and regional peace and stability."

U.S. military officials said strengthening Japan's amphibious capabilities is vital as the U.S. focuses more attention on developing an Asia-Pacific strategy amid ongoing U.S. Defense Department budget cuts. The region has been roiled by tensions due to North Korean long-range rocket and nuclear tests and maritime territorial disputes between China and its neighbors.

"If the 20th century taught us anything, it is that when democracies are able and willing to defend themselves it preserves peace and stability," said Col. Grant Newsham, Marine liaison to the Japanese military. "Most Asian countries welcome — even if quietly stated — a more capable (Japanese force) that is also closely allied to U.S. forces."

The drill comes just days after Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit with President Barack Obama at an estate in the nearby California desert, at which the two discussed topics including the Pacific region's mounting tensions.

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