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Japan's MSDF, Solomon Islands hold 1st drill amid China tension

From left, Solomon Islands Police Maritime patrol boat Taro, the U.S. Navy's littoral combat ship Oakland and Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Kirisame engage in a joint drill on Aug. 8, 2022, in the South Pacific. (Photo courtesy of Maritime Self-Defense Force)(Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force said Tuesday it has conducted its first joint drill with Solomon Islands maritime police, amid concerns over China's growing military clout on the South Pacific island nation following a controversial security pact between them.

    The MSDF said its destroyer Kirisame engaged in a maritime security exercise on Monday in the South Pacific with the patrol boat Taro from Solomon Islands' Police Maritime. They were also joined by the U.S. Navy's littoral combat ship Oakland.

    With the Solomon Islands having no military force, the Police Maritime effectively functions as such.

    The drill came after concerns were raised by a deal signed in April between China and the Solomon Islands.

    The pact would reportedly allow the deployment of Chinese police, military and other armed personnel and the docking of Chinese ships in the island nation, which switched diplomatic ties from self-ruled Taiwan to China in 2019.

    The Solomon Islands has denied that the security pact invites China to establish a military base there.

    Tokyo and Washington have been stepping up efforts to push back against Beijing's assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region and to strengthen relations with the Solomon Islands, such as by sending senior officials to the country.

    Tensions across the Taiwan Strait have spiked in the wake of U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan last week, with China launching a large-scale, live-fire military exercise around Taiwan in response to her trip which pushed through despite warnings.

    Beijing sees Taiwan as a breakaway province to be reunified, by force if necessary.

    Separately, the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force said Tuesday that it had carried out a joint drill with the U.S. Air Force above waters around Japan's southern island prefecture of Okinawa, near the East China Sea.

    Three Japanese and two U.S. F-15 fighter jets participated in the exercise held last Thursday.

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