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US, Japan to hold 'Keen Sword' exercise amid fears of China attack on Taiwan

US, Japan will hold military exercises as expert warns China may attack Taiwan during November's US elections

USS Ronald Reagan (left), Japanese helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga (right) sail in formation. (USN photo)

USS Ronald Reagan (left), Japanese helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga (right) sail in formation. (USN photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The U.S. military announced that it will stage exercise "Keen Sword" with Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) in Japan amid fears China could exploit distractions caused by the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3.

On Sept. 17, Seth Cropsey, a former naval officer, and a senior fellow at the Washington-based think-tank the Hudson Institute wrote an op-ed in The Hill titled, “There may never be a better moment for China to strike than the week of Nov. 3.” However, on Thursday (Sept. 24), the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command announced it will be holding joint military exercises involving at least 46,000 troops with the JSDF and Royal Canadian Navy, including amphibious landings on several Japanese islands beginning Oct. 26.

In his op-ed, Cropsey wrote that since the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) spread worldwide in April, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has sent warplanes to encroach on Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ), dispatched its aircraft carrier battle group through the Miyako Strait, and conducted large-scale exercises near the Taiwan Strait. Cropsey warns these are "not just a complex form of political-signaling," but rather are preparations for an attack on Taiwan, with the goal being to "subjugate it before the U.S. and its allies can respond."

Currently, hostility between the two main political parties over the U.S. presidential election is intensifying, as President Donald Trump is refusing to commit to a peaceful transition. Cropsey argues that if the U.S. becomes embroiled in a fight over the transfer of power caused by a contested election, the country will be much less willing to engage in a "high-end great-power conflict."

Therefore, from China's point of view, 'there may never be a better moment" for it to strike than the week of Nov. 3, asserts Cropsey. However, the announcement by the U.S. military that it will be holding joint exercises from Oct. 26 to Nov. 5 with both Japan and Canada, complicates the calculus for Beijing.

According to a report by Minaminihon Broadcasting (MBC), JSDF will deploy approximately 37,000 troops, 20 warships, and 170 aircraft during the biennial war drills. The U.S. side will dispatch approximately 9,000 personnel from the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Army, and Air Force, while a Royal Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigate will take part in sea exercises.

During the exercises, U.S. forces will train with their Japanese counterparts from military bases across mainland Japan, Okinawa Prefecture, and "their surrounding territorial waters." Goals listed for the operation include training for realistic scenarios, "enhancing readiness, interoperability, and building credible deterrence."