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China named as hypothetical enemy for 1st time in Japan-U.S. exercise

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The Japanese Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military named China as a hypothetical enemy for the first time in their joint command post exercise, government sources said Sunday, amid rising concerns over a potential invasion of Taiwan by Beijing in the future.

The computer simulation exercise, which began on Feb. 1 and is slated to be held through Thursday, envisions an emergency in Taiwan. A provisional name was previously used when referring to an enemy.

Japan’s Defense Ministry is believed to have classified the scenario as a specially designated secret under the country’s secrecy law.

Gen. Yoshihide Yoshida, chief of staff of the Joint Staff, speaks at a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo on Jan. 25, 2024. (Kyodo)

The move reflects a heightened sense of urgency as concerns grow that China could act on Taiwan in several years amid increasing geopolitical tensions.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns said in February last year that Chinese President Xi Jinping had instructed his country’s military to be ready to invade Taiwan by 2027.

The United States and Japan have multiple joint operation plans envisioning emergencies, with a draft regarding Taiwan completed at the end of last year.

The results of the current “Keen Edge” exercise will be reflected in the final plans to be compiled by the end of this year, while troops are expected to perform a live-action demonstration of the “Keen Sword” drill around 2025 to verify its efficacy.

The countries had previously utilized maps that slightly differed from the topography of actual countries to avoid backlash in the event the plans were leaked, although the current exercise utilized unaltered versions.

Japan and the United States began conducting joint drills in 1986, with the two countries holding “Keen Edge” and “Keen Sword” exercises roughly every other year.

Gen. Yoshihide Yoshida, chief of the Japanese Defense Ministry’s Joint Staff, said at a press conference on Jan. 25 that the exercise “did not envision a particular country or region.”

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