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Published: Thursday May 1, 2014 MYT 5:15:02 PM
Updated: Thursday May 1, 2014 MYT 5:16:28 PM

Japan to conduct island defence drill amid tension with China

A group of disputed islands, Uotsuri island (top), Minamikojima (bottom) and Kitakojima, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China is seen in the East China Sea, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 2012. REUTERS/Kyodo

A group of disputed islands, Uotsuri island (top), Minamikojima (bottom) and Kitakojima, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China is seen in the East China Sea, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 2012. REUTERS/Kyodo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan will conduct a military exercise this month to practice defending an island, the Defence Ministry said on Thursday, underscoring concern about East China Sea islands controlled by Japan but claimed by China.

The dispute over the islands, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, has raised fears of a clash between the Asian neighbours which could even drag in the United States.

Separately, China said on Wednesday it would carry out naval exercises with Russia in the East China Sea in what it called a bid to deepen military cooperation.

Japan's Defence Ministry said the island defence exercise would run from May 10 to May 27 on a small uninhabited island in the Ryukyu chain, some 600 km (375 miles) northeast of the disputed isles.

Some parts of the exercise will be held in southwestern Japan's Nagasaki prefecture and waters off Okinawa Island's east coast. Okinawa is home is a major U.S. military base and Japan also bases forces there.

It will be the first time that Japan's military, known as the Self-Defence Forces, will use an actual island for island defence training involving its ground, air and maritime divisions.

About 1,300 troops, as well as several fighter jets and destroyers, will practice landing on and retaking the island, the ministry said.

But it said the exercise was not a response to the tension with China.

"Boosting island defence is something that has been mentioned in the defence white paper in recent years. This is not a drill that is responding to the current security situation surrounding Japan," a ministry spokesman said.

U.S. President Barack Obama said last month while on a visit to Japan that the disputed islands were covered by a U.S.-Japan security treaty, angering China.

Last month, Japan announced it would break ground on a radar base in the area, on a tropical Japanese island close to Taiwan.

The radar station on Yonaguni Island, just 150 km (93 miles) from the disputed islands in the East China Sea, marks Japan's first military expansion at the western end of its island chain in more than 40 years.

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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