The United States and Japan are waging war games amid growing tensions between China and Taiwan

The United States and Japan have held joint war games and military exercises in case of conflict with China over Taiwan, amid growing concerns about the assertive activity of the Chinese military.

U.S. and Japanese military officials have begun serious planning for a possible conflict in the last year of the Trump administration, according to six people who asked for anonymity. Activities include top-secret board war games and joint exercises in the seas of South China and East China.

Shinzo Abe, then Japanese prime minister, decided in 2019 to significantly expand military planning because of the Chinese threat to Taiwan and the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. This work continued under the administration of Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, according to three of the people with knowledge of the matter.

The United States and Japan have been alarmed that China has brought more fighter jets and bombers into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, including a record fight on June 28-15. The Chinese navy, air force and coast guard have become increasingly active around the Senkaku, which are administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan.

China insists it wants to unify Taiwan with the mainland. While he says he wants peaceful unification, he has not ruled out the use of force to take control of Taiwan.

“In many ways, the People’s Liberation Army has led the United States and Japan together and toward a new reflection on Taiwan,” said Randy Schriver, who has been the Pentagon’s first official for Asia. until the end of 2019. “The assertiveness around Senkaku and Taiwan at the same time brings home the question of proximity.”

The United States had long wanted Japan, an ally of mutual defense treaties, to do more common military planning, but Japan was constrained by its post-war pacifist constitution. That obstacle was eased, but not removed, when the Abe government in 2015 reinterpreted the constitution to allow Japan to defend allies that have been attacked.

When the two allies began to strengthen their joint planning, Japan asked the United States to share its Taiwan war plan, but the Pentagon showed why it wanted to focus on promoting planning between the two countries. in phases. A former U.S. official said the ultimate goal was for the two allies to create an integrated war plan for Taiwan.

Two of the six people say the U.S. military and Japanese self-defense forces have conducted joint exercises in the South China Sea that have been prepared for training in disaster relief. They have also conducted more military exercises around the Senkaku, which also helps prepare for any conflict with China over Taiwan, which is only 350km west of the island.

“Some of the activities we have in training are highly fungible,” Schriver said, adding that exercises such as an amphibious landing in a “disaster relief scenario” will be “directly applicable” to any conflict surrounding the Senkaku or Strait of Taiwan.

Mark Montgomery, a retired admiral who commanded the strike group of the carrier USS George Washington and was director of operations at the Indo-Pacific command between 2014 and 2017, said the Pentagon needed a “complete understanding” of the support that Japan could provide in the event of a conflict.

Tension has risen over Senkaku Islands, which are administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan © Kyodo via Reuters

“When the crisis grows and Japan is potentially attracted as a participant, the United States needs to understand how Japan could support or activate U.S. operations,” he added.

U.S. and Japanese diplomats are examining legal issues related to any common military action, including access to bases and the type of logistical support that Japan could provide to U.S. forces engaged in a conflict with China.

In the event of a war over Taiwan, the United States will rely on air bases in Japan. But this increases the likelihood that Tokyo will be dragged into the conflict, especially if China tries to destroy the bases in an effort to ruin the United States.

An official said the United States and Japan urgently needed to create a trilateral sharing mechanism with Taiwan for information on Chinese naval and air force movements, particularly around the Miyako Strait in the United States. east of Taiwan which is covered by Japanese sensors from the northeast and Taiwan. sensors from the southwest.

“Some of this type of data is shared between Taiwan and the United States, and between Japan and the United States. But we do not have direct trilateral sharing,” the official said. “You can’t start to put that in the middle of a contingency. You have to do it now.”

Another official said the three nations had taken a small but important step in 2017 by agreeing to share military aircraft codes to help identify friendly aircraft.

Taiwanese officials and U.S. and Japanese sources said the cooperation has already increased significantly, driven by growing awareness in Japan of the importance of Taiwan – which is located 110 km from Yonaguni, the westernmost island of Taiwan. the Japanese archipelago – for their own safety.

“The Japanese government has increasingly recognized, and even publicly acknowledges, that Taiwan’s defense is tantamount to Japan’s defense,” said Heino Klinck, a former Pentagon official who oversaw military relations with Japan. and Taiwan from late 2019 until the end of the Trump administration.

The Japanese Defense Minister said that Tokyo and Washington have continued to update their joint planning after the 2015 revision of the guidelines supporting the military alliance, but declined to provide any details. The Pentagon did not comment.

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo and Kathrin Hille on Twitter

Additional reports from Robin Harding in Tokyo

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