News / Asia

    Japan to Arm Remote Western Island, Risking More China Tension

    FILE - A member of Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force.
    FILE - A member of Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force.
    Reuters
    Japan is sending 100 soldiers and radar to its westernmost outpost, a tropical island off Taiwan, in a deployment that risks angering China with ties between Asia's biggest economies already hurt by a dispute over nearby islands they both claim.
     
    Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera will break ground on Saturday for a military lookout station on Yonaguni, which is home to 1,500 people and just 93 miles from the disputed Japanese-held islands claimed by China.
     
    The mini-militarization of Yonaguni - now defended by two police officers - is part of a longstanding plan to improve defense and surveillance in Japan's far-flung frontier.
     
    Building the radar base on the island, which is much closer to China than to Japan's main islands, could extend Japanese monitoring to the Chinese mainland and track Chinese ships and aircraft circling the disputed crags, called the Senkaku by Japan and the Diaoyu by China.
     
    “We decided to deploy a Ground Self-Defense Force unit on Yonaguni Island as a part of our effort to strengthen the surveillance over the southwestern region,” Onodera said this week. “We are staunchly determined to protect Yonaguni Island, a part of the precious Japanese territory.”
     
    The 11 square mile) backwater - known for strong rice liquor, cattle, sugar cane and scuba diving - may seem an unlikely place for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to put boots on the ground.
     
    But Yonaguni marks the confluence of the Japanese defense establishment's concerns about the vulnerability of the country's thousands of islands and the perceived threat from China.
     
    The new base “should give Japan the ability to expand surveillance to near the Chinese mainland,” said Heigo Sato, a professor at Takushoku University and a former researcher at the Defense Ministry's National Institute for Defense Studies. “It will allow early warning of missiles and supplement the monitoring of Chinese military movements.”
     
    Japan does not specify an enemy when discussing its strategy to defend its remote islands. But it makes no secret that it perceives China generally as a threat - a giant flexing its growing muscle and becoming an Asian military power to rival Japan's ally, the United States, in the region.
     
    Japan, in National Defense Program Guidelines issued in December, expressed “great concern” over China's rapid military buildup, opaque security goals, its “attempts to change the status quo by coercion” in the sea and air, and such “dangerous activities” as last year's announcement of an air-defense identification zone.
     
    Forward strategy
     
    Japan's remote-island strategy, set out in the guidelines, is to “intercept and defeat any invasion by securing maritime supremacy and air superiority” with swift deployments supplementing troops positioned in advance.
     
    “Should any remote islands be invaded, Japan will recapture them. In doing so, any ballistic missile or cruise missile attacks will be dealt with appropriately,” the guidelines read.
     
    Yonaguni, at the western tip of Japan's 2,000-mile southwestern island chain, is practically within sight of the disputed rocks that are the feared flashpoint of Japan's island strategy, which could draw the United States into a fight.
     
    Onodera's groundbreaking ceremony comes four days before President Barack Obama lands in Tokyo for a summit with Abe, the first state visit by a U.S. president in 18 years.
     
    Japanese and Chinese navy and coastguard ships have played high-stakes cat and mouse around the disputed islets since Japan nationalized the formerly privately owned territory in September 2012. Japanese fighter jets scrambled against Chinese planes a record 415 times in the year through to March, up 36 percent from the previous year, the Defense Ministry said last week.
     
    Tapping such concerns, Abe raised military spending last fiscal year for the first time in 11 years.
     
    He is bolstering Japan's capability to fight for islands with a new marine unit, more longer-range aircraft, amphibious assault vehicles and helicopter carriers. Although the country's landmass is smaller than California, its thousands of islands give it nearly 18,600 miles of coastline to defend.
     
    Tight fiscal constraints, however, mean Japan can't keep pace with China's yearly double-digit military budget increases.
     
    Wary welcome
     
    The people of Yonaguni, where Abe wants to station 100 troops and perhaps as many family members within two years, have mixed feelings about their imminent role in facing off against China.
     
    “Opinion is split down the middle,” Tetsuo Funamichi, the head of the island's branch of the Japan Agricultural Association, said by telephone. “It's good for the economy if they come, but some people worry that we could be attacked in an emergency.”
     
    Takenori Komine, who works in an island government office, said it was a risk worth taking if it meant reviving an outpost of Japan that has been in decline since a brief postwar boom.
     
    At that time, U.S.-occupied Yonaguni's proximity to Taiwan made it an entry point into Japan for smuggled food and clothing from Hong Kong. Since the end of World War II, the island's population has withered by some 90 percent. Average income of about $22,500 a year is a fifth below the national average.
     
    “We are hopeful that the arrival of the young troops will bolster local consumption,” Komine said.
     
    But Yonaguni's mainstays, beef and sugarcane, are in the crosshairs of trade negotiations. Abe is trying to defend Japan's high tariffs on them but has recently agreed to beef tariff cuts for Australia and is under strong pressure to do the same for the United States before Obama's visit, as part of broad talks on an ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact.
     
    “If the TPP includes sugar, this island is finished,” said Funamichi of the agricultural co-op.
     
    A sharply falling population on Yonaguni would have security implications, a government official said.
     
    “It's not good from the perspective of securing our territory,” said the official in Tokyo. “If people don't live there, you could lose your claim to effective control.”

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Kuala Lumpur from: Malaysia
    April 18, 2014 1:20 PM
    This is ridiculous. The radar is much closer to China than to Japan. This is clearly a threat for China national security. I would have no sympathy if the PLA shoot down the Japanese plane in that region.
    In Response

    by: SEATO
    April 19, 2014 1:44 PM
    China has been becoming increasingly aggressive towards their neighbours, so it is only fair that Japan and all other ASEAN countries have to arm themselves to fend off the Chinese threat. All old European maps show China's southernmost point is Hainan Island.You couldn't just redraw a map and claim the Senkaku and South China Sea as parts of China in ancient times,which is totally unacceptable.All border outposts should be as close to your neighbouring countries as possible,not in the middle of your capital city,LOL...Just like the Chinese built the Great Wall in their northern frontier to fend off the Huns,not in the middle of the Forbidden City.Japan's remilitarisation is the only hope left for Asia,and I am sure most Asian people pray that Mr Abe would get his way

    by: Jonathan huang from: Canada
    April 18, 2014 12:15 PM
    Japan government tells lies! It still deny the hypocrites committed during WWII. Abe is worshipping WWII war criminals in a shrine. Abe deny the exist of Korean sex slaves in WWII, Abe denies the Nanjing massacre! Japanese wake up, don't be brainwashed by your evil government! Koreans and Chinese must unit and fight against Japan.
    In Response

    by: vman from: Canada
    April 22, 2014 7:40 PM
    Maybe you should go back to China and fight Japanese!

    by: fake china map from: ancient time
    April 18, 2014 9:04 AM
    GO JAPAN GO, german chancellor gave old map of china drawn by europe in 1730ish to china's president as a gift which reveal everything Chinese people learn in school is a fraud. Their government has lied and frabricated history to gain their ppl support and justified their greedy ways.
    In Response

    by: Jonathan huang from: Canada
    April 18, 2014 12:18 PM
    Democratic, American ally, Taiwan's map also shows that Diaoyu islands belong to Taiwan! Stop lying! Japan must give the control of Diaoyu islands back to Taiwan!

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora