TOKYO -- Quad members the U.S., Australia and Japan, along with eight other countries, have begun joint exercises in Australia and its nearby waters through July as military tensions simmer in the Taiwan Strait and near the Senkaku Islands.
The U.S. and Australia kicked off their biennial Exercise Talisman Sabre on Wednesday. Defense forces from Japan, the U.K., Canada, South Korea and New Zealand will also take part in the drills, while India, Indonesia, Germany and France will participate as observers.
"The exercise will further strengthen our cooperation toward a free and open Indo-Pacific," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters Thursday. The U.S., Japan, India and Australia have been promoting a rules-based order in the region through their Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad.
Japan is sending a Ground Self-Defense Force unit specializing in remote island defense and tasked with the initial response to a contingency in the Nansei Islands, which include the Japan-administered Senkakus that are claimed by China as the Dioayu. The GSDF will participate in a landing drill with U.S. and British marines and the Royal Australian Army.
"Amphibious maneuvers are critical to defending the Nansei Islands, which is one of Japan's top defense priorities," GSDF Chief of Staff Gen. Yoshihide Yoshida said. "Bolstering our tactical skills will strengthen our defense capabilities."
The drills come amid growing international interest in the Indo-Pacific region, especially regarding increased military activity near the Taiwan Strait. China has flown into Taiwan's air defense identification zone on multiple occasions recently, with Washington sailing ships through the strait in response.
Japan's Defense Ministry called the Taiwan situation one of its top challenges, saying it must "pay close attention" to the Taiwan Strait "with a sense of crisis more than ever before," in a white paper this week.
The region has also drawn interest from European countries, with the SDF also participating in joint island-based exercises with the U.S. and France in May.
Meanwhile, a Chinese surveillance ship began sailing toward Australian waters ahead of the exercise, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
"We have been monitoring its approach to Australia for several days as part of Australia's broader surveillance effort," Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said of the ship.