Japan brought a new radar installation online yesterday March 28, on Yonaguni Island just 100 kilometers from the port of Su’ao on Taiwan’s east coast. The installation will be manned by a contingent of 160 soldiers.
Yonaguni Island has a population of around 1500 and is part of the YaeYama group of Islands of Okinawa Prefecture. First annexed by Japan in 1879, it was occupied by the USA from 1945 to 1972 when it was returned to Japan.
Construction of the military surveillance facilities began in 2014 as tensions increased between China and Japan over sovereignty of the Japanese controlled Senkaku Islands, known by the Chinese as Daioyutai. The Senkakus are approximately 80 nautical miles north of Yonaguni. Taiwan also has an overlapping claim over the uninhabited islands.
Ground Self-Defence Force Lt. Gen. Kiyoshi Ogawa presented a flag to unit commander Daigo Shiomitsu in an opening ceremony Monday where he said “Establishing a stable defense setup in the area of the Nansei Islands represents our country’s commitment to defense.”
While watching over the Senkakus is the listening post’s most obvious purpose, defence analysts say it may have wider surveillance capabilities. Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at Australia’s Lowy Institute said “It could play a role in intercepting high-frequency communications out to a much wider radius, including the Chinese mainland, South China Sea, Russia and North Korea.”
“The Yonaguni radar site is aimed at strengthening JSDF air and maritime domain awareness around the Senkaku Islands and Taiwan,” said Tetsuo Kotani, a senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo.
“This radar station is going to irritate China,” said Nozomu Yoshitomi, a professor at Nihon University and a retired major general in the Self Defence Force.
In a statement sent to Reuters China’s defense ministry said the international community needs to be on high alert to Japan’s military expansion.
“The Diaoyu Islands are China’s inherent territory. We are resolutely opposed to any provocative behavior by Japan aimed at Chinese territory,” it said.
“The activities of Chinese ships and aircraft in the relevant waters and airspace are completely appropriate and legal.”
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in response to the opening of the radar base, “China has a clear and consistent stance on the East China Sea and Diaoyu Islands issues,” Hong said, expressing his hope that Japan can do more to benefit regional peace and stability.
The opening of the radar facility is part of Japan’s strategic initiative to increase defense capabilities in the East China Sea. Defense personnel will be increased to 10, 000 troops and missile batteries will be installed to form a defensive curtain on the island chain, which extends 1400 km from mainland Japan. Chinese shipping must pass through this barrier to reach the Western Pacific.
The opening of the facility also comes one day before Japan implements a controversial new defense law. Today March 29, a law comes into effect that will for the first time since the end of the Second World War, allow Japanese troops to serve in military combat duty overseas.
Sources: Japan Times, Reuters, Xinhua