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US, Japan begin major military drill

TOKYO — The militaries of the United States and Japan began an enormous joint drill Monday, though leaving out a key part of the exercise that might have angered China.

Japan’s Defense Ministry said 37,000 Japanese and 10,000 American military personnel would be taking part in the 12-day drill, which involves US Navy ships transporting Japanese troops. The top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, said the drill, near Okinawa, was not aimed at a specific country.

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But the Japanese government canceled a joint amphibious landing on a remote island in what analysts described as an effort not to provoke China, which is locked in an emotional dispute with Japan over control of uninhabited islands near Okinawa in the East China Sea.

The friction has been intensifying for months. In a more direct challenge to Japanese control, Chinese patrol ships have for more than two weeks been entering waters around the disputed island group, known in Japan as the Senkaku and in China as the Diaoyu.

Four Chinese craft typically push to within hailing distance of Japan’s Coast Guard ships. They flash illuminated messages in Japanese to press Beijing’s argument that it has ancient claims to the tiny islands now controlled by Tokyo.

China says its craft have tried to chase the Japanese away at least once, although Japan denies any of its ships fled.

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