CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Japanese troops are to land on the U.S. mainland next week for the first-ever exercise there with Marines.

In a move that demonstrates how Japanese troops will increase joint exercises with U.S. troops under Japan’s new defense program, about 130 Japan Ground Self-Defense Force troops will begin training at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

A spokesman for the JGSDF’s Western Army Headquarters in Kumamoto said Wednesday a 30-member advance team left for California on Tuesday and soon will be joined by 100 more for training scheduled to begin Monday. The drills, to run through Jan. 27, are to train the Japanese soldiers to respond to threats against Japanese islands off Kyushu and Okinawa.

Equipment for the training was shipped to Camp Pendleton in December, the spokesman said.

“It is to enhance our capability to respond to new threats under Japan’s new national defense program guideline,” he said.

He said the training will simulate landing on an occupied island, something they had not practiced under their previous “conventional defense-oriented posture.”

“At Camp Pendleton, where various effective facilities are available, we will learn from the Marine Corps, which has a long history of landing troops,” he said.

The Western Army regiment, formed in 2002, is under direct command of Western Army Headquarters, which is in charge of defense of Kyushu and Okinawa, he said. Japan’s national defense program adopted in 2005 includes guidelines for responding to the invasion of Japan’s offshore islands.

Sending the soldiers to Camp Pendleton comes soon after Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso cited China as a threat to the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea between Taiwan and Ishigaki Island. The islands, approximately 138 miles northeast of Taiwan, 230 miles east of the Chinese mainland, and 230 miles southeast of Okinawa, are believed to be sitting on vast oil and gas deposits.

On Nov. 10, 2004, tensions between Japan and China heightened when a Chinese submarine spent two hours submerged in Japanese waters near Taiwan, prompting Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force to chase the sub with destroyers and a patrol plane as it cruised, still submerged, back to Chinese waters.

It was only the second time since the end of World War II that Japan’s maritime force went on alert.

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