Japan bolstered its military surveillance capabilities in the southern island region of Okinawa over the weekend, reports said, as territorial tensions with China simmer.
The nation’s armed forces, called the Self-Defense Forces, launched a squadron of four E-2C early warning planes at its air base in Naha, Okinawa, yesterday, the Jiji and Kyodo news agencies reported.
This is the first time such planes have been based on the island.
At the inauguration ceremony in Naha, Japanese Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera said Japan faced a “dangerous situation” as China’s continual attempts to “change the ‘status quo’ by force and threaten the rule of law could trigger emergencies,” Kyodo News reported.
“The squadron was newly established to firmly defend our country’s territorial land, sea and air,” he told reporters afterward, according to Jiji Press.
Japan’s air force possesses 13 E-2C airborne early warning planes at the Misawa base in northern Japan. Four of these have been transferred to the Naha base.
The number of personnel there is to be doubled to about 130 by March next year.
On Saturday, a ceremony was held to start building a radar surveillance unit on Yonaguni, Japan’s westernmost island, despite protests from islanders fearing the unit will trigger attacks, the reports said.
Yonaguni lies about 150km southwest of the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Archipelago (釣魚群島) in China, and which Taiwan also claims.
Chinese ships and planes have approached the disputed island group, repeatedly moving into its territorial waters and airspace, after Tokyo nationalized three of the Senkakus in September 2012, to confront Japanese patrols.
Radar equipment will be installed at the ground force unit on Yonaguni to monitor ships and aircraft in the East China Sea, the reports said.
About 150 personnel are to be deployed at the radar unit by the end of March 2016.
“It’s very important to take a solid surveillance posture on remote islands,” Onodera said after attending the groundbreaking ceremony on Saturday, Kyodo reported.
The unit will “fill a void of Self-Defense Forces presence” in Japan’s remote southwestern islands, he added.
Both Okinawa and Yonaguni are part of the island region of Okinawa.
The surveillance boost comes at a time when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing to reconfigure Japan’s role in the world, specifically that of its armed forces.
He wants to re-interpret a law to allow Japanese troops to take up arms to defend an ally under attack in so-called collective self-defense.
On Saturday about 70 Yonaguni islanders opposed to the new surveillance unit scuffled with officials connected to the defense ministry, Kyodo said.
The islanders were concerned Yonaguni could become a target in any future conflict between Japan and China.