China’s military voiced alarm over a recent joint exercise with Japan that showed off a new Marine Corps tiltrotor aircraft in war games Beijing said were preparation for an assault against China, according to military and intelligence officials.
The new MV-22 Osprey was used for the first time to land on a Japanese helicopter destroyer during joint military drills off the California coast on June 14.
The exercises, known as Dawn Blitz, were closely watched by the Chinese military and prompted Beijing to counter the maneuvers by announcing plans for joint war games with Russia later this month.
A defense official said the high-profile U.S.-Japan war games, including the Osprey ship landing, are part of the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia that includes building up military forces and strengthening alliances in the region.
The Osprey is a unique aircraft that can land and take off like a helicopter and then shift its rotors to fly like a conventional airplane. It can carry up to 32 troops and is considered a state-of-the-art transport for ferrying troops from ships to beaches.
On the use of the Osprey for the first time on a Japanese warship, a prominent Chinese military spokesman, retired Rear Adm. Yin Zhou, said Dawn Blitz was practice for Japan’s use of force against China over the disputed Senkaku islands, which China calls the Diaoyu.
China has stepped up military activities around the uninhabited islets and claimed them as its territory. The islands are located between Okinawa and Taiwan and are believed to contain large undersea deposits of oil and gas. Japan has owned them for decades.
“The Japanese government has made a commitment that it will not hesitate to fight on the Diaoyu Islands issue,” Yin told the official government controlled newspaper Global Times, adding that the exercise was military “preparation.”
Yin also said the exercise was held close to the United States rather than in Asian waters to prevent Chinese electronic eavesdropping on the tactics for retaking the Senkakus.
Other Chinese military spokesmen characterized the Osprey landing as a sign of Japan’s improved offensive military capabilities.
Chinese Col. Du Wenlong, with the People’s Liberation Army Academy of Military Sciences, told state media the Osprey exercise represented a “leap forward” for Japan’s military and a sign that Japan is seeking its own amphibious assault power to reduce reliance on its U.S. military alliance.
Du said in an interview broadcast on state television June 14 that he believes Japan will deploy Ospreys on its ships for offensive military operations against islands further from Japanese coasts.
Japanese officials said Dawn Blitz would boost joint operations capabilities under conditions similar to war.
The chief of Japan’s Joint Staff, Gen. Shigeru Iwasaki, said in June that Dawn Blitz was a "very important drill for rebuilding a U.S.-Japan mutual cooperation system.” And Koichi Isobe, another Joint Staff senior official said the exercises were “very significant” and part of the military’s development of marine amphibious warfare capabilities.
Japan’s army, known as the Ground Self Defense Forces, created the Western Army Infantry Regiment in 2002 with the main mission to defend remote islands. The unit has trained extensively with the U.S. Marine Corps, which has a major base on Okinawa.
Japan also is planning to purchase four amphibious assault vehicles amid discussion among Japanese officials about creating a new Japanese Marine Corps with the specific mission of defending Japan’s island territories.
Other official Chinese commentators said the exercises showed Japan’s growing offensive military capabilities.
Teng Jianqun, of the official China Institute of International Studies, said Japan is using advanced military platforms like the Osprey for island military campaigns. PLA Sr. Col. Chen Hu, editor of Xinhua’s military analysis also said the exercise was designed to boost Japanese offensive air and sea capabilities for amphibious operations.
Japan’s constitution prohibits Tokyo’s limited military forces from conducting offensive military actions.
China, for its part, announced it would conduct a large-scale joint military exercise with Russia’s military from July 27 to Aug. 15. Chinese military spokesmen said the exercises were meant to signal Chinese displeasure with what they called “provocations” by the United States and Japan in conducting Dawn Blitz.
Wang Xiangsui, head of the Center for Strategic Studies at the Beijing University, told the Chinese-owned Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao that recent joint U.S.-Japan military exercises, the disputes over the East China Sea islands, and the U.S. pivot to Asia had placed “military pressure” on China and that the exercises with Russia are a response.
China currently is engaged with maritime and territorial disputes with most of its neighbors and has been seeking close strategic ties with Russia. Moscow, so far, has been lukewarm to the Chinese overtures.
Meanwhile, China’s government criticized Japan for its new defense strategy report that warned about the growing threat posed by China’s military buildup.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing Wednesday that the Japanese defense white paper “disregards basic facts and maliciously plays up the China threat.”
“The Chinese side expresses grave concern about and strong dissatisfaction with this,” she said. “Japan has no right to make irresponsible remarks about China’s internal affairs.”
Hua said China will settle maritime disputes through international and domestic law but “we will never allow any country to violate China’s territorial sovereignty.”
“The Japanese side has provoked incidents over the Diaoyu Islands [Senkaku Islands] issue, seriously harmed China’s territorial sovereignty, and disrupted regional peace and stability,” she said, adding that Japan is “deliberately creating tensions and provoking conflict and confrontation.”
The defense white paper states that China is “rapidly expanding and intensifying its activities in its surrounding waters and airspace.”
“These moves, together with the lack of transparency in its military affairs and security issues, are a matter of concern for the region and the international community, including Japan,” it stated. “It is necessary for Japan to pay utmost attention to them.”
Dawn Blitz was held June 11 through 28 off the California coast and in addition to the first Osprey landing on a Japanese warship, the exercise also involved an amphibious assault drill. About 5,000 troops took part, including forces from Canada and New Zealand and observers from seven nations.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos called the Osprey landing on the deck of the Japanese ship “monumental” and part of the Marines’ new “orientation to the Pacific, including exercises in Japan.”
And Brig. Gen. John Broadmeadow, commanding general of the First Marine Expeditionary Brigade said: “The very first landing of an MV-22 Osprey on a Japanese ship is a historic moment for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Marine Corps at large.”
The joint U.S.-Japan exercise and the Osprey maneuvers “allows the Marine Corps to quickly respond to a crisis when launched from sea or land,” Broadmeadow said, according to a Marine press statement.