Tuesday, May 20, 2014, 12:17
'Japan to set up 3 army outposts near Diaoyu isles'
By Kwan Weng Kin, The Straits Times/ANN

 'Japan to set up 3 army outposts near Diaoyu isles'
This handout photo provided by the Japan Coastguard shows the Chinese marine surveillance ship Haijian 51 in the East China Sea, a point about 320 kilometres northwest of Japan's southern Amami Oshima island near the Diaoyu isles on May 4, 2010. (Photo / AFP)

Japan plans to set up military outposts on three islands far west of Tokyo to boost the defence of its outlying islands.

Some 350 troops will be stationed at each of the outposts in the south-west, not far from China's Diaoyu islands, said a report in the largest-circulating Yomiuri Shimbun daily yesterday.

Not only can the troops be rapidly deployed to deal with any possible attack on Japan's outlying islands, but they will also be mobilised in the event of natural disasters occurring in the area.

The outposts are to be set up by March 2019, the report said.

Following Japan's nationalisation of a few of the Diaoyu isles in September 2012, Chinese naval ships have repeatedly patrolled waters around the disputed isles, confronting ships manned by Japan's Coast Guard.

The new troop deployment also comes amid rising tensions in the region.

Two of the outposts are to be established on Ishigaki and Miyako islands, 170 km and 210 km, respectively from the Diaoyu islands.

Later this week, Deputy Defence Minister Ryota Takeda is due to visit Amami Oshima - where the third outpost is expected to be located - to request the local government authorities to participate in a joint survey for the construction of camp facilities. Amami Oshima lies some 150 km south of the Diaoyu islands.

Boosting the defence of Japan's outlying islands "is in a sense also strengthening the Japan-United States security alliance", an unnamed senior defence official told the Yomiuri.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga acknowledged that the government was working to enhance the military presence in the south-west, but denied it had decided on the specific locations.

Last Friday, 1,300 troops from the three arms of Japan's Self Defence Force began a week-long drill during which they would carry out troop landings on an uninhabited island and later recapture it from a fictitious enemy.

Besides limited air force facilities, the lack of any substantial military presence in Japan's southwestern flank, an area running roughly from Kyushu up to almost the Taiwanese coast, leaves the area vulnerable.

But the three new outposts are not the only means of beefing up the defence of that area.

Under its medium-term defence build-up programme, the government is also doubling the number of F-15 fighter planes in Naha city, on the main Okinawa island, to about 40 planes in two years' time.

Last month, a ground-breaking ceremony for a radar surveillance unit to be manned by 150 troops was held on Yonaguni, Japan's westernmost inhabited island lying just 108 km from the Taiwanese coast.

The unit will be responsible for gathering intelligence on ships and planes in the area.

Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera, speaking in Yonaguni, said: "The deployment of this unit will help to fill the vacuum in our south-western region. The troops have a big role to play."