Japan pushes to move troops near disputed islands

Japanese defence minister General Nakatani visits the USS Arizona shrine room. Picture: AP
Japanese defence minister General Nakatani visits the USS Arizona shrine room. Picture: AP
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Japan’s deputy defence minister met the mayor of a southern island yesterday to seek his support for the planned deployment of hundreds of troops near the disputed East China Sea islands.

Vice minister of defence Kenji Wakamiya met mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama on the island of Ishigaki to explain a plan to deploy about 500 ground troops on the island beginning in 2019, ministry officials said.

The troops would be for emergency response in case of infiltration on nearby islands or for missile defence.

Ishigaki has jurisdiction over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which China also claims and calls the Diaoyu islands.

Japan has stepped up its defence readiness, especially on islands in the country’s southwestern region, amid China’s military build-up and its frequent patrols near the disputed islands. China and North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons ambitions top Japan’s security concerns.

Prime minister Shinzo Abe’s hawkish government enacted new security laws in September despite widespread criticism that they violate Japan’s war-renouncing constitution.

Japan is already constructing a base on the nearby island of Yonaguni to deploy 150 coastal monitoring troops, and plans to deploy hundreds more each on Miyako and Amamioshima islands by 2018.

Japanese coast guard statistics showed that Chinese government vessels have entered Japanese-claimed territorial waters surrounding the disputed islands between four and 28 times a month, and approached those waters nearly every day since Japan nationalised some of the disputed islands in September 2012. Relations between the nations, which have the world’s second- and third-largest economies, are also strained over their Second World War history, development of undersea gas deposits in areas near the disputed islands.

Japanese defence minister General Nakatani visited Pacific Command for talks earlier this week. Discussions were expected to cover security in the region, including in the East and South China Seas.