TOKYO — Japan bolstered its military surveillance capabilities in the southern island region of Okinawa over the weekend, reports said, as territorial tensions with China simmer. The nation’s armed forces, called the Self-Defense Forces, launched a squadron of four E-2C early warning planes at its air base in Naha on the main Okinawan island Sunday, the Jiji and Kyodo news agencies reported. This is the first time such planes have been based on the island. At the inauguration ceremony in Naha, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Japan faced a “dangerous situation” as China’s continual attempts to “change the status quo by force and threaten the rule of law could trigger emergencies,” Kyodo News reported.
“The squadron was newly established to firmly defend our country’s territorial land, sea and air,” he told reporters afterward, according to Jiji Press. Japan’s air force possesses 13 E-2C airborne early warning planes at the Misawa base in northern Japan. Four of these have been transferred to the Naha base.
The number of personnel there will be doubled to about 130 by March 2015. Japan scrambled fighter jets against approaching Chinese aircraft 415 times in the year to March 2014, up from 306 times in the preceding year, Jiji said citing defense ministry statistics. On Saturday, a ceremony was held to start building a radar surveillance unit on Yonaguni, Japan’s westernmost island, despite protests from islanders fearing the unit will trigger attacks, the reports said.