Japan's Shifting Defense Strategy
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Japan's Shifting Defense Strategy

    An increasingly aggressive China is causing Japan to shift its focus and look to its southwestern islands.

    Since the end of World War 2, Japan has focused much of its defense resources north because of Russia. But that's changing.

    Members of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force trained with US Marines in California in February. The purpose of the training was to teach the Japanese amphibious capabilities.

    The reason is they have to be ready for a new deployment on islands off southwestern Japan.

    The Japanese government is changing its defense focus because of China. Increased tensions in the nearby South China Sea are a part of the reason. But more close to home, China has been getting a little too close for comfort.

    Chinese naval vessels have recently sailed in and around Japan's territorial waters.

    The US AAV7's were the highlight of the amphibious landing drills. They can move through shallow water and on land to begin fighting immediately. The Ground Self-Defense Force is bringing in 52 of them.

    According to a US Marine Corps Colonel stationed in Okinawa, the results of the training will depend on what Japan wants.

    "They gained the knowledge, working and training with US Marines. And they are going back to their regiment and their internal training. So Japan develops its own amphibious capability. Now whether or not it looks like US Marine corps, I think it is yet to be determined," said US Col. Romin Dasmalchi.

    The Japanese government has been beefing up defenses in around the country's westernmost point, not far from Taiwan.

    A ceremony was held for the deployment of a Ground Self-Defense Force surveillance unit. It's the unit's first deployment to the small island of Yonaguni.

    "Establishing a stable defense setup in the area represents Japan's commitment to defense," said GSDF Lt. Gen. Kiyoshi Ogawa.

    The unit's job is to monitor ocean traffic around the Senkaku Islands and its surrounding areas.

    Japan controls the islands. The Japanese government maintains the islands are an inherent part of Japan's territory. China and Taiwan claim them.

    And it's not just one island getting more defense forces. The Defense Ministry has more deployment plans. Units of 600 to 800 members are heading to the islands marked with yellow dots.

    In all, about 2,000 are expected to be deployed in stages throughout the southwestern Islands.

    There are about 1,000 islands in the region. They are spread across a huge area.

    At the International University of Japan a former Ground Self-Defense Force Lieutenant General turned professor says the moves are needed.

    "Simply put, Western Army has a number of islands to defend and we don't have enough troops to deploy from peacetime. We have to deploy our troops in case of necessity," says retired Lt. Gen. Noboru Yamaguchi.

    The Ground Self-Defense Force is planning to launch an amphibious unit in 2 years.

    A force of more than 7,000 ground personnel is expected to play a major part in beefing up defense capabilities in the remote island areas.