Japan, US to conduct massive military drill from Friday

TOKYO, December  2, 2010 (AFP) - Japan will demonstrate its ties with the United States in huge joint military drills, just days after a US and South Korean show of force amid tensions on the Korean peninsula, officials said Thursday.

The previously announced "Keen Sword" drills, which were planned before North Korea's artillery barrage of a South Korean island last week, will take place from Friday to December 10, a defence ministry spokeswoman confirmed.

"It turns out to be good timing to show the bond between Japan and the United States," a senior ministry official told the Yomiuri Shimbun daily, with the drill following US-South Korea exercises that ended Wednesday.

Around 34,000 Japanese Self-Defence Force personnel with 40 warships and 250 aircraft will join more than 10,000 US personnel with 20 warships and 150 aircraft in the drill, defence officials said.

The biggest US-Japanese drill since 2007 will take place in Japanese waters off its southern islands, close to the southern coast of South Korea, officials said.

The joint manoeuvres will be much bigger than a naval exercise by Washington and Seoul this week in a show of force after Pyongyang stunned the world with the deadly artillery strike on a South Korean border island.

Japan has been on high alert since the attack, with Prime Minister Naoto Kan instructing his ministers to stay in Tokyo during the US-South Korea drill in the Yellow Sea to prepare for any emergencies.

Japan relies heavily on the United States for its security as under its pacifist constitution, its military is not allowed to attack enemy territories.

"This training between Japan and the United States has been a routine, recurring event for many years," a US Air Force statement said, adding that the exercise was to "improve the interoperability" of US and Japanese forces.

Following Pyongyang's November 23 attack on Yeonpyeong island, which killed four people, China has proposed that the six nations involved in long-stalled North Korean denuclearisation talks hold an emergency meeting on the crisis.

But instead the United States, Japan and South Korea have agreed to hold their own talks in Washington on December 6 in an apparent snub to China. The other members of the six-party process are China, North Korea and Russia.