TOKYO -- Japanese ruling party lawmakers on Wednesday urged the government to hold joint defense drills with the U.S. in the East China Sea, in an effort to bolster Japan's effective control over the Senkaku Islands.
The group of Liberal Democratic Party policymakers presented the recommendations to Katsunobu Kato, who serves as new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's chief cabinet secretary.
They reflect concerns within the LDP about repeated Chinese activity around the Senkakus, which China claims and calls the Diaoyu Islands.
"We need to recognize this is an extremely significant problem for our nation's sovereignty," the document states.
The Senkakus are part of the Nansei Islands, a chain also known as the Ryukyu Islands that stretches southwest from Japan's Kyushu and includes Okinawa.
The lawmakers propose enabling Japan's Self-Defense Forces to use smaller airports and seaports in Okinawa that are now open only to civilian craft. Such a step would require approval from the Okinawa prefectural government.
They also call for faster research and development of surveillance drones, high-speed glide bombs, amphibious combat vehicles and other weapons systems to better defend the islands.
The Japan Coast Guard and the Fisheries Agency need more staff, the proposals say. The LDP lawmakers also call for equipping Coast Guard patrol ships with air search radar and increasing coordination between the Coast Guard and the Maritime Self-Defense Force.
Chinese government ships entered the contiguous zone around the Senkaku Islands for 111 straight days between April and August. Chinese ships sailed for more than 30 hours in Japanese territorial waters on July 4-5.
During his run for the LDP leadership, Suga on Sept. 12 vowed to "firmly defend Japan's land and seas" and said he favored a "cool-headed, determined response" to the Senkakus situation.