(From the National Interest)
He who lives by the military buildup, dies by the military buildup. Though the recent visit to Beijing by Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida suggests a thaw in Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations, there remains a gulf—or more accurately, a sea—between the two Asian powerhouses.
China’s growing naval activism in the East China Sea has inevitably sparked reaction from Japan, as Tokyo is busy raising a defensive wall along its southern flank, coinciding with one of the most vulnerable sections of the so-called first island chain, to control and deter possible aggressive moves by the Chinese navy.
On the heels of new security legislation allowing Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to engage in armed conflicts overseas for the first time since the end of World War II, evidence is mounting that Tokyo is intent on closing in on China through a variety of ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) and antimissile facilities. Key to this strategy is the militarization of the Nansei Island Chain, Japan’s southernmost territories, which includes the prefectures of Okinawa and Kagoshima.
In late March, Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) opened a radar installation on Yonaguni Island, near Taiwan’s eastern seaboard and the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, administered by Tokyo but claimed by China (and Taiwan). The new GSDF surveillance station is expected to monitor Beijing’s activities in the East China Sea and, possibly, the northern sector of the South China Sea, where China is locked in territorial disputes with a string of neighbors that receive support from the United States and Japan.
The intelligence-gathering post on Yonaguni has also the potential to be used for military operations, and is part of Japan’s plan to activate a series of coastal and amphibious security units on the country’s southwestern islands. It is worth noting that Tokyo’s militarization of the Nansei Islands goes hand in hand with the strengthening of the country’s coast guard. Indeed, on April 16, the Japan Coast Guard launched a special unit of twelve large ships to patrol waters in the East China Sea around the Senkakus/Diaoyus, in an evident response to the China Coast Guard’s decision to assign its giant new patrol vessel, the CCG 2901, to its eastern division, which monitors the disputed area. Read more