About 44,000 Japanese and U.S. troops are to start week-long joint military drills around Japan on Friday, 10 days after North Korea attacked a South Korean island, the government said. About 60 vessels and 400 planes from the two countries’ armed forces are to take part in the exercises in the Sea of Japan and near Okinawa island, which come two days after a joint drill between the United States and South Korea ended. The vessels include the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which also participated in the drills in the Yellow Sea, and destroyers of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force, Kyodo News reported.

The South Korean Defence Ministry is to dispatch observers to the drills for the first time. Japan sent observers to U.S.-South Korean exercises in July. Tokyo hopes South Korea’s presence will demonstrate Japan’s support for its neighbour and win Seoul’s assistance in resolving disputes with North Korea over abduction issues, unnamed sources were quoted by Kyodo News as saying. Japan is also concerned about China’s growing military power and strained relationship over recent territorial disputes with Beijing, so Tokyo hopes to improve cooperation with Seoul over issues concerning China, the sources told Kyodo.

North Korea on November 23 shelled Yeonpyeong island, near the disputed border between the Koreas in the Yellow Sea, killing two marines and two civilians.

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