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U.S., Japan hold fighter jet drills after China bomber flight, North Korea missiles

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The United States and Japan conducted a joint fighter jet exercise over the Sea of Japan, both countries announced Thursday, amid rising tensions in the region. Photo courtesy of the Japan Ministry of Defense
The United States and Japan conducted a joint fighter jet exercise over the Sea of Japan, both countries announced Thursday, amid rising tensions in the region. Photo courtesy of the Japan Ministry of Defense

SEOUL, May 26 (UPI) -- The U.S. military and Japan's Defense Ministry said Thursday they flew fighter jets over the Sea of Japan in signal of readiness after China and Russia sent bombers nearby and North Korea test-fired three ballistic missiles.

The joint exercise, held Wednesday, was meant "to showcase combined capabilities to deter and counter regional threats," the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement.

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The Joint Staff of Japan's Ministry of Defense said in a statement that the drill "affirms readiness" and "further strengthens the capacity of [the] Japan-U.S. alliance." Four Japanese F-15 and four American F-16 fighter jets stationed in Japan took part in the exercise, the statement said.

The drill followed a series of flights by Russian and Chinese bombers near Japan while U.S. President Joe Biden was in Tokyo for a summit of the leaders of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad.

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Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said in a press briefing that a total of six Chinese H-6 and Russian TU-95 bombers flew over the Sea of Japan and continued on to the East China Sea and western Pacific. Japan scrambled a fighter jet in response, he said, and lodged diplomatic complaints with Beijing and Moscow.

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Kishi said the flights were "intended to act as a demonstration of force to Japan," as it hosted the leaders of the United States, Australia and India for the Quad summit.

He noted it was the fourth joint exercise between Russia and China since November, but said that the timing of the latest drill was "more provocative than ever before."

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"As the international community responds to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, China's actions in collaboration with the invading country, Russia, are concerning and cannot be overlooked," Kishi added.

South Korea also scrambled a jet on Tuesday, its Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a text message to reporters, after detecting that the Russian and Chinese warplanes had entered its Air Defense Identification Zone.

China called the flights a "routine joint aerial strategic patrol in accordance with their annual military cooperation plan" in a brief statement from its Ministry of Defense.

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Russia's Ministry of Defense said the exercises were "not aimed against third countries," according to state news agency TASS.

The Japan-U.S. drill came just hours after North Korea test-fired three ballistic missiles, including one believed to be an ICBM. Officials in Washington and Seoul have said the secretive state appears poised for a nuclear weapons test.

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Biden's five-day visit to South Korea and Japan, which ended Tuesday, marked his administration's latest effort to strengthen security and economic ties in the region as a response to China's growing assertiveness. The Quad summit focused on countering Beijing's territorial claims in the waters of the Indo-Pacific.

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