Updated 2:12 PM EST, Wed, Jan 29, 2020

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US, Japan Draw up Naval Plan to Re-take Disputed Islands in Case of Chinese invasion

Joint Exercises

(Photo : Reuters) Soldiers from the U.S. Marines and Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force (above) conduct joint exercises that are intended to recover an island in San Clemente, California.

The United States and Japan have drawn up a naval defense plan to wrest control over disputed islands in the East China Sea in the event of a Chinese invasion,  Japanese defense officials have revealed.

Citing sources from within the Japanese Ministry of Defense, the Asahi Shimbun news agency has reported that the commanders of the US Forces Japan (USFJ) and Japan's Self Defense Forces (SDF) have drafted a top secret plan to regain control over the Senkaku island group -- called Diaoyu in China -- in case Beijing manages to take the islands by force.

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The sources told the Asashi that the four-phase joint operations protocol involves coordinated artillery fire and airstrikes.

The plan -- which is yet to become an operations document -- is said to have been prepared by US and Japanese commanders in 2012, shortly after then Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda oversaw the purchase of the disputed islands from its previous owners.  

Bigger, Stronger

Beijing and Tokyo have a long-standing quarrel over the territory, which is roughly due east of mainland China and west of Okinawa, in the East China Sea.

China has stepped up incursions in the waters off the Japanese-controlled territory since December, and the Financial Times reports that the Japanese government has grown increasingly worried about what Beijing intends to do next. 

"Recently, the Chinese government sent bigger, stronger patrol ships -- almost equivalent with naval combatant ships -- into the waters around the Senkakus," said Hideaki Kaneda, a retired vice-admiral now with the Ozaki Institute in Tokyo.

While most analysts agree that a Chinese invasion of the Senkaku Islands is unlikely, an unnamed official at Japan's National Institute of Defense Studies (NIDS) told the South China Morning Post he believes the plan is a sensible precaution.

"It is very clear that China is attempting to weaken Japan's control over the territory, which makes those islands presently Tokyo's most serious security concern," the source told the Post.  "But it also underlines the accelerating security relationship between Japan and the US and this sort of cooperation is understandable and logical for both sides."

Four Elements

The Asahi says naval commanders from the US and Japan are currently formulating an updated defense plan for the disputed islands following a high-level meeting held in November last year.  Sources have told the Japanese news agency that key elements of the 2012 strategy will be incorporated into the new protocol.   

The first phase of the 2012 US-Japan naval plan is said to outline the establishment of a battlespace around the islands, forming a strong defensive zone comprised of warships and aircraft patrols to detect and repel the enemy invasion force.

The second phase of the plan consists of a strategy premised on a scenario in which the invading force manages to land and take the island in spite of the battlespace.   Under such a scenario, the battlespace is converted into a naval blockade to intercept and destroy arriving enemy support troops and supply vessels.

The third a phase of the plan calls for both Japan and the US to coordinate airstrikes and artillery fire on the occupying force.  The final stage charts the landing of a joint assault force which will overwhelm the remaining invaders and re-take the islands. 

"It was like a study of scenarios for a joint operational plan," a high-ranking official from the Japanese defense ministry said. 

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