Japanese lawmakers called for protection of the Senkaku Islands, claimed by Japan, China and Taiwan, on Thursday. Photo courtesy of USC US-China Institute
Sept. 18 (UPI) -- Japanese lawmakers called for joint military drills with the United States to protect the South China Sea's Senkaku Islands, a target of Chinese incursion.
About 100 members of the governing Liberal Democratic Party drafted a proposal on Thursday seeking United States involvement in asserting Japan's claim over the islands, about 250 miles west of Okinawa.
While Japan controls the islands, citing history and international law, China and Taiwan both claim them. China has recently increased aerial and naval activities near the islands, with regular visits from Chinese ships this year.
Although Japan does not have a permanent military base on the Senkaku chain of islands, the United States and Japan have conducted numerous joint drills at other locations.
The chain is a barren group of seven rocky islands totaling seven square miles, but it is surrounded by rich fishing waters. The area may also hold oil and natural gas deposits.
The proposal, summarized on Thursday in a blog post by the LDP's Masahisa Sato, calls for a higher military budget to equip Japan Coast Guard patrol ships with "anti-aircraft radar" to facilitate detection of low-altitude aircraft and drones.
It also suggested the involvement of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force against potential airspace violations, and "enlightenment of the Senkaku Islands issue" to make clear Japan's sovereignty.
In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin referred to the Senkaku Islands as Chinese territory, and suggested that Japan work to improve China-Japan relations.