Japan missile move could fray fragile China ties

China Daily
Huang Panyue

Japan is mulling a new military buildup in its southernmost region with an eye on China, Japanese media has reported.

The Japanese government is considering deploying a surface-to-ship missile unit to the main Okinawa island in the hope of checking Chinese naval vessels that, Japan says, have repeatedly sailed through the Miyako Strait, the Asahi Shimbun said.

Japanese media said under international law there are no restrictions on Chinese naval vessels navigating in the open sea.

A battery of the most advanced Type 12 SSM, which has a range of about 200 kilometers, will be deployed on the main Okinawa island.

Together with the missile units on Miyako Island, the new deployments on Okinawa are believed to cover the entire sea area of the Miyako Strait, the Kyodo News reported.

Japan will add the upcoming developments into its new National Defense Program Guidelines, which will be worked out by the end of this year, and the Medium Term Defense Program.

The Kyodo News also reported that Japan is planning to launch an amphibious operations brigade at the end of March.

The 2,100-member unit, modeled after the US Marine Corps, will be stationed mainly in Sasebo in Southwestern Japan's Nagasaki prefecture.

Lyu Yaodong, a Japanese studies researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the brigade will have combat capability and is obviously aimed at China's territorial and maritime sovereignty.

"The deployment of SSM and the brigade shows the (Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe administration's duplicity," Lyu said, adding that while Abe has stated many times his intention to use this year to improve China-Japan relations, the deployment actually targets China and threatens Chinese territorial security, which will undoubtedly damage the already-fragile bilateral relations.

Nansei chain of islands

Japan's National Defense Program Guidelines, worked out in 2013, stipulate that Japan will assign SSM units to defend remote islands. Japan has already decided to deploy an SSM unit to Miyakojima island, located south of the Miyako Strait.

The Medium Term Defense Program, for fiscal year 2014 to 2018 that starts on April 1, was worked out along with the guidelines. It also includes policies to strengthen units deployed to the Nansei chain of islands, located between the main Kyushu island and China's Taiwan.

Based on the program, the government has decided to deploy the Ground Self-Defense Force's Type 12 SSM units to Miyakojima and Ishigakijima island in Okinawa prefecture and Amami-Oshima island in Kagoshima prefecture from fiscal year 2018.

It has also decided to deploy guard units and surface-to-air missile batteries on the three islands.

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