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Japan readies island war games amid YouTube PR push

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Destroyers, fighter jets and 34,000 troops will take part in a huge exercise aimed at bolstering Japan's ability to protect its remote islands, the government said Thursday, amid a territorial dispute with China.

The war games, which will include live-firing, come as Tokyo steps up its global PR campaign by posting online videos it hopes will swing world opinion behind its claims to two archipelagos that are the focus of rows with China and South Korea.

The air-sea-land drill from November 1-18 will involve amphibious landings on the uninhabited atoll of Okidaitojima, 400 kilometres (250 miles) southeast of the main Okinawan island, a defence ministry official said.

Live-fire exercises involving destroyers and F-2 fighter jets will also be conducted, he said.

The island is a considerable distance from the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which China also claims as the Diaoyus.

However, defence force chiefs are considering deploying short-range land-to-sea missiles on the island of Ishigaki 150 kilometres from the disputed islands, the Asahi and Fuji TV networks said. Both broadcasters said there were no plans to fire weaponry there.

Chinese state-owned ships have sparred with Japanese coastguard boats repeatedly in waters around the Senkakus since Tokyo nationalised three islands in the chain last year.

Beijing's boats have frequently been warned off after sailing into waters Japan considers its preserve.

Fighter jets and warships from both sides have also been in the area on numerous occasions, leading some observers to warn of the danger of an armed conflict that could draw in the United States and have disastrous consequences for the region.

November's drill is aimed at "maintaining and improving the joint operational abilities of the Self-Defence Forces in armed-attack situations", the Self Defence Forces (military) joint staff said in a statement.

It will feature "a series of actions in defending islands" including joint operations in island landings, it said.

Beijing expressed its "concerns", with foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying adding: "We hope that the relevant party will do more to promote international trust and regional peace and stability."

China announced Wednesday that its three naval fleets were readying to hold a drill in the Western Pacific, but gave no details on the exact location or timing.

In November last year US and Japanese forces held a joint drill involving 47,400 troops, the vast bulk from the Japanese side. But they reportedly cancelled an exercise to re-take a remote island in a bid to avoid irritating China.

Since the hawkish Shinzo Abe became prime minister in December, however, Japan has taken a more robust stance.

In its latest volley, the foreign ministry has produced two 90-second videos stating its case for ownership of the two disputed island groups and posted them on its YouTube site.

Smartphone and tablet users

Both videos are currently only in Japanese, but the ministry plans to provide versions in 10 other tongues including Chinese and Korean.

"We are also preparing three other short movies on the Senkaku islands and one on the issue of Takeshima," a ministry spokesman told AFP, referring to a pair of islets that South Korea controls as Dokdo.

"The new ones will be just 30 seconds in length and we hope they will be watched by smartphone and tablet users."

The ministry has earmarked 120 million yen ($1.2 million) this fiscal year for the films and creating a YouTube channel, he said.

"It is important that the international community obtain correct understanding over situations surrounding Japan including territories," he said.

Beijing and Seoul reacted angrily, with Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua saying: "Whatever propaganda tools Japan employs to support its illegal claim, it will not change the fact that the Diaoyu Islands belong to China."

South Korea lodged a formal protest over the video, calling in a senior Japanese embassy official to register disapproval on Wednesday.

Foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-Young said the protest noted the Japanese government's attempt "to undermine our sovereignty over Dokdo by spreading groundless claims over the Internet".

Japan's latest move, officials say, is in part a reaction to advertising efforts by China.

Two-page colour ads saying "Diaoyu islands belong to China" appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post last year.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131024/japan-readies-island-war-games-amid-youtube-pr-push