Japanese government sources said Friday that the country’s Defense Ministry plans to deploy a 500-man Ground Self-Defense Force unit to the Okinawa Prefecture island of Miyako to boost its defense of southwestern Japan regions.
The report by Jiji Press follows the unveiling of new U.S.-Japan defense cooperation guidelines and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s state visit to Washington earlier this week. Miyako Island is part of the Ryukyu Islands chain whose southernmost “Sakishima” portion includes the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands contested by China and Japan. The new U.S.-Japan military rules stipulate that Washington’s commitment to Japan’s overall security includes the islands.
Jiji says the ministry hopes the funds necessary for the deployment, including land-acquisition costs, will be part of its budget appropriation for the next fiscal year, which starts in April 2016.
Japanese defense planners are said to be mulling the deployment of another ground unit to the island of Ishigaki, also in Okinawa Prefecture, and intend to carry out on-site surveys there shortly, Jiji quoted sources as saying. The Senkakus are about 170 km north of Ishigaki Island. Japan considers the tiny group of uninhabited islets to be under the administration of Ishigaki City on Ishigaki.
Minister of Defense Akira Sato expects to visit the two islands in mid-May in order to seek local support for dispatching the unit to Miyako and on-site surveys on Ishigaki, the sources said.
Reuters, quoting U.S. and Japanese sources, reported on April 29 that Japan’s military is considering joint maritime air patrols with the U.S. in the South China Sea in response to China’s increasingly assertive pursuit of territorial claims in the area.