Support and opposition at Yonaguni: "Resolutely against inviting the SDF" (top) vs "Inviting the SDF to Yonaguni is the people's dearest wish" (bottom)

Support and opposition at Yonaguni: "Resolutely against inviting the SDF" (top) vs "Inviting the SDF to Yonaguni is the people's dearest wish" (bottom) (Source: Kyodo/Reuters)

Recent days have seen the Ministry of Defense reportedly considering land purchases from Yonaguni Town at in the southwest of the island – placing a request for procurement funds out of the FY2012 budget. This seaward-looking turn for the Ground Self-Defense Force has been a subject of interest for a while here at JSW, thus it is time for an update.

The latest news shows a progression towards the eventual deployment of the coastal monitoring unit (which is as yet unnamed). What we now see is that a site has been picked and that plans are on track, so long as the residents play ball.

According to a Kyodo report in Mainichi Shimbun:

The plan is in line with the ministry’s five-year medium-term defense buildup program from fiscal 2011, under which Japan will beef up the presence of Ground Self-Defense Force troops on the remote southwestern Nansei Islands, including Yonaguni Island, as a costal monitoring unit.

The ministry plans to construct the monitoring station on 15 to 20 hectares of the 125-hectare farm, currently used for the grazing of around 60 cows and horses, according to the officials.

It would build the unit building and quarters as well as a heliport within four years so that the unit can monitor the movements of foreign vessels in the East China Sea using optical equipment and radar.

Yonaguni Mayor Shukichi Hokama has shown readiness to accept the unit amid expectations it would have a positive impact on the local economy, but some residents are opposed, arguing there is no need for more defense force bases in Okinawa. Okinawa Prefecture hosts a bulk of U.S. forces stationed in Japan.

47News carried a Kyodo report with a little more detail on the division between Yonaguni residents, roughly translated by yours truly:

Residents react strongly against the planned MoD acquisition of municipal land on Yonaguni Island

Concerning the creation of a new Ground Self-Defense Force coastal monitoring unit in the Nansei-Shoto islands in Japan’s southwest, the Ministry of Defense plans to purchase municipal land from Yonaguni Town on Yonaguni Island, Okinawa Prefecture, upon which it will build a base, MoD officials confirmed in interviews on August 20th. It is believed that an official request for funds to purchasing and building on the land will be made for budget next year.

In Yonaguni Town at a presentation for residents held in July, the town was divided between support and opposition to the deployment of troops, but it is possible that opposition to the plan will strengthen before consensus building negotiations begin.

Concerned over Chinese naval activitiy in the Pacific Ocean, as well as the passage of a Chinese fleet between Okinawa Island and Miyakojima, the government’s Midterm Defense Program (FY2011-2015) clearly stated, “The GSDF will establish a new coastal surveillance unit, and will begin to form a first-response unit to station in the island areas of southwestern Japan.” Surveys are being conducted prior to GSDF deployment to Yonaguni.

The full text of that quote from the MDP goes on to read: ”The GSDF will establish a new coastal surveillance unit [...] to gather intelligence, monitor situations, and respond swiftly when incidents occur.” Later, it adds:

As described [above], the GSDF will establish a new coastal surveillance unit, and will begin to form a first-response unit to station in the island areas of southwestern Japan, to establish regular ISR and to respond swiftly. It will also assign mobile ground-based radar to the southwestern islands in order to reinforce a seamless ISR posture. Further, maintenance infrastructure for early warning aircraft (E-2C) will be developed in the southwestern region for continuous steady-state operations.

The shape and details of the unit have yet to be made known, and I have a feeling that the battle for Yonaguni has barely begun: watch this space.

[H/T Grey Havoc and Tri-Ring]

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch