While only 40 Japanese officers and soldiers will take part in drills involving 30,000 US and Australian troops in early July, experts said the move showed how Washington wanted to foster cooperation among its security allies in Asia.

The Talisman Sabre biennial exercises, to be held in locations around Australia, will encompass maritime operations, amphibious landings, special forces tactics and urban warfare.

"I think the US is trying to get its allies to do more," said Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney.

"There is an obvious symmetry between Japan as the upper anchor of the Western Pacific alliance and Australia as the southern anchor."

All three nations have said they were concerned about freedom of movement through the seas and air in the disputed South China Sea, where China is creating seven artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago, a vital shipping corridor.
China claims most of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims.

The Japanese personnel will embed with US forces while 500 New Zealand troops will join Australian contingents, according to the Australian Defence Force website.

Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani rebuffed suggestions the exercises were aimed at China, telling Reuters that Japan simply wanted to improve military cooperation with the United States and Australia.

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