Japan is to establish new military outposts on remote islands, a report said yesterday, as Tokyo looks to bolster its defense amid its territorial dispute with China.
Up to 350 troops each could be stationed on three islands in the far southwest, close to the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), claimed by Taiwan, which Japan claims and calls the Senkakus and Beijing claims as the Diaoyu Archipelago (釣魚群島), the mass-selling Yomiuri Shimbun reported.
With the exception of Okinawa, Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Forces — its army — have no bases on the chain of islands that runs from the bottom of Kyushu to Taiwan. There are limited air force facilities in the area.
The lack of substantial military presence is a source of worry for some in Japan, who caution that it leaves Japan vulnerable to China’s increasingly assertive stance.
Chinese ships have repeatedly moved into the islands’ waters, since Tokyo nationalized some of them in September 2012, to confront Japanese vessels.
The islands lie about 2,000km southwest of Tokyo and about 200km from the north of Taiwan.
While most of the bickering has been between coastguards from both sides, observers say military ships are loitering over the horizon, with some warning of the risk of a confrontation.
Beijing has spent heavily on its military in recent years in a bid to develop a “blue water” navy that can project force far into the Pacific.
This means getting through what it calls the “first island chain,” including Japan’s southwestern islands and the northern Philippines.
Tokyo is planning to set up new outposts on three islands, including Amamioshima, about 150km south of the Senkakus, the Yomiuri said, citing unnamed senior Japanese Ministry of Defense officials.
Japanese Deputy Minister of Defense Ryota Takeda is to visit Amamioshima this week to look at establishing a joint research project with the island, it said.
Two other candidate sites for the new posts include Miyako Island and Ishigaki Island, about 210km southwest and 170km south respectively of the disputed islets.
These units are to be in addition to a radar surveillance unit on Yonaguni, where a groundbreaking ceremony was held last month.
Bolstering the defense of Japan’s southwestern islands “has an aspect of strengthening the Japan-US security alliance,” a senior defense official told the Yomiuri.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said under a new defense program, Japan had already decided to enhance its military presence in the southwest and had been conducting research.
“At the moment, however, we have not decided on specific, concrete locations, such as those reported,” he told a press conference.