US-Japan RIMPAC Drills Go On Despite COVID-19

TOKYO (GDC) — The coronavirus has not stopped the U.S. and Japan from holding joint military exercises, as the allies keep watch on China’s increasingly assertive maritime maneuvers in the East and South China seas amid the pandemic.

Allies also seek to conduct international RIMPAC exercise in August 2020. The latest joint exercise was the third since April.

Two U.S. Air Force B-1 bombers and 16 F-15 and F-2 fighters from Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force held joint drills over the Sea of Japan and around Okinawa on Wednesday.

“These are very important as we further strengthen the deterrence and capabilities of Japan and the U.S. acting jointly,” said Gen. Yoshinari Marumo, chief of staff for the Air Self-Defense Force.

“This mission is a demonstration … that we have the ability to operate from numerous locations across the globe, even during the global pandemic,” Gen. Tim Ray, commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command, said after a drill in late April during which a B-1 flew to Japan from the contiguous U.S. and teamed with Japanese fighter jets.

The allies also seek to hold the Rim of the Pacific international maritime warfare exercise hosted biennially by the U.S. Navy, despite concerns that the event will be canceled due to the coronavirus. Plans call for holding RIMPAC in August at a smaller scale and shorter duration that usual.

“This will contribute to the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Adm. Hiroshi Yamamura, chief of staff of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force.

In the East China Sea, official Chinese vessels sailed in Japan’s contiguous zone around the Senkaku Islands — administered by Tokyo and claimed by Beijing — 289 times during the January-March period, up 60% on the year, the Japan Coast Guard has said.

“Japan is strongly opposed to attempts to unilaterally change the status quo with force,” Kono told his counterparts, referring to China without naming it.

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