TOKYO — Japan plans to send non-combat troops for the first time to its westernmost island in response to Chinese naval maneuvers in the East China Sea, a move which could infuriate its giant neighbor, the Nikkei business daily said on Sunday.
The plan is to send 100 troops to Yonaguni, about 110 km east of Taiwan and 160 km southwest of disputed East China Sea islets called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.
But it wouldn’t take effect until 2014 at the earliest, the newspaper said without giving an explanation.
Relations between Asia’s two biggest economies soured in September after Japan detained a Chinese skipper whose fishing boat collided with Japanese patrol vessels off the disputed islands, which are near potentially rich maritime gas reserves. He was later released.
The plan involves the deployment of lightly armed military personnel to monitor activities and communications of warships and aircraft, the newspaper said.
The Defense Ministry was also considering sending troops to the islands of Miyako and Ishigaki west of Okinawa to beef up border security, the Nikkei said.
The main island of Okinawa is home to 2,100 Japanese troops. Currently no troops are deployed on islands to the west.
Defense ministry officials were not available for comment.
But the ministry, in an annual report issued in September, said it was considering ways to defend Japan’s southwest islands, including deployment of a new unit.
The ministry earmarked 30 million yen (US$359,200) in its 2011/12 budget request for research on deployment of troops to Yonaguni and other southwest islands.