Japan to deploy 100 troops to disputed islands by 2014

AP and Reuters

TOKYO — Japan plans to send troops to its southernmost islands to better monitor Chinese activity near islands claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing, a top business daily reported Sunday. Tokyo will send 100 members of the Ground Self-Defense Force, Japan’s equivalent of the army, to Yonaguni in Okinawa prefecture as early as 2014, The Nikkei reported. The troops will use radar and other communications equipment to monitor the moves of Chinese ships and planes in the area and strengthen defense in the region, the report said. 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. Japan currently does not have troops on Yonaguni and placing them on an island that is closer to China, Taiwan and the disputed islands could become a contentious issue.

The main island of Okinawa is home to 2,100 Japanese troops. Currently no troops are deployed on islands to the west.

Government offices were closed Sunday, and Defense Ministry officials were not immediately 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.