Japan Is Building Missile Bases to Confront Rising Threat From China

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Japan’s military is laying the groundwork for batteries of antiship and antiaircraft missiles in a quiet, sugar-cane-filled valley in its southwestern island chain, as it girds to confront what Tokyo views as its greatest long-term threat: China.
Japan deployed Patriot interceptor launchers at Ishigaki in February last year. Tokyo is laying the groundwork for an expanded military presence on Japan’s southwestern islands. JIJI PRESS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

ISHIGAKI, Japan—Japan’s military is laying the groundwork for batteries of antiship and antiaircraft missiles in a quiet, sugar-cane-filled valley here, as it girds to confront what Tokyo views as its greatest long-term threat: China.

Ishigaki is one of a string of subtropical islands in the far southwest of the Japanese archipelago—the closest is about 200 miles from China’s coast—that defense officials are fortifying with troop garrisons, new weapons and a radar installation.

As China becomes more powerful and assertive and North Korea builds up its nuclear arsenal, Japan is rethinking its approach to defense and moving away from the policies of strict pacifism it has followed since its defeat in World War II.

 

On Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet is set to approve an increase of around 2.5% in annual military spending, including funds for the new bases on the southern islands, as well as the country’s first cruise missiles and a new ballistic-missile defense shield.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the cruise missiles are intended to protect the islands from invasion.

Defense budgets have been growing since 2013, with Japan, one of the U.S.’s most important allies, buying advanced fighter jets, boosting surveillance capabilities and training a new amphibious troop unit.

The country still spends around half of that spent by China and one-third of the U.S. on defense relative to the size of each country’s economy. But, with the support—and prodding—of Washington, it is building one of the world’s most capable armed forces.

Ishigaki and neighboring islands are part of what China’s military calls the “first island chain,” a series of archipelagoes around China’s perimeter stretching from Russia’s Kurils to the South China Sea, where Beijing seeks naval dominance.

Authorities on Ishigaki have jurisdiction over a nearby group of tiny, uninhabited islands that Japan calls the Senkakus. They are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

In recent years China has sent progressively larger coast guard ships, some of them armed, to circle the islands. A fleet of 10 Japanese coast guard ships based in Ishigaki regularly plays cat-and-mouse with the Chinese vessels.

A Japanese military vehicle carrying units of Patriot missiles leaves a port on Ishigaki. On Friday, Japan is set to approve an increase in annual military spending, including funds for a new military base on Ishigaki.
A Japanese military vehicle carrying units of Patriot missiles leaves a port on Ishigaki. On Friday, Japan is set to approve an increase in annual military spending, including funds for a new military base on Ishigaki. PHOTO:KYODO/REUTERS

Rear Adm. Atsushi Tohyama, commander of the Ishigaki coast guard base, said Japanese ships make contact with Chinese boats by radio to avoid physical clashes. “The Chinese ships are getting bigger and more modern. In that sense, they are escalating the situation,” he said.

A spokesman for the Japanese army, known as the Ground Self-Defense Force, said the military aims to deploy 500 to 600 soldiers to Ishigaki to man the new missile installation.

In response to a request for comment on Japan’s fortification of its southern islands, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “Due to historical reasons, Japan’s military and security policies receive a high level of concern from Asian neighbors and the international community. We hope that Japan will adhere to the path of peaceful development and refrain from doing anything that would damage regional peace and stability.”

For decades, the only major military presence in the area has been U.S. bases on Okinawa, where about half of the 50,000 American troops in Japan are stationed.

Recent incidents on Okinawa in which a Japanese man was killed by a truck driven by a U.S. serviceman and a local boy was injured by a window that fell from a U.S. military helicopter have fanned criticism of the military. The U.S. has pledged to prevent recurrences of both incidents.

Plans for a military base on Ishigaki have divided the island. Here, a banner with an anti-base message stands next to sugar-cane fields.
Plans for a military base on Ishigaki have divided the island. Here, a banner with an anti-base message stands next to sugar-cane fields. PHOTO: CHIEKO TSUNEOKA/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Prime Minister Abe has argued that Japan should do more to defend itself and reduce its dependency on the U.S. military. Part of that process is to amend the nation’s pacifist constitution to formally recognize Japan’s right to have a military, Mr. Abe says.

It remains unclear whether Mr. Abe’s desire for a change in the constitution would win the necessary majority backing in Parliament and then a national referendum. Many Japanese identify the country’s peaceful postwar period as closely linked to its constitution, opinion polls show.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is currently working on a constitution-revision plan to put to lawmakers.

In the meantime, Mr. Abe’s government argues that the acquisition of military hardware and construction of military bases is constitutional because it is for Japan’s defense.

Plans for the expanded military footprint on Ishigaki have divided the island’s population of around 50,000 and prompted protests. Anti-base activist Shizuo Ota says a base would make the island a target in any future conflict. “We’d be wiped out in an instant,” he says.

But Ishigaki’s mayor, Yoshitaka Nakayama, is a strong supporter. He has set a deadline of March, when he faces re-election, to pass a motion in the local assembly in support of the base construction. Half of the land is owned by the city, which needs the assembly’s permission to sell it.

“Until China becomes a country with a normal political system, we need to protect ourselves,” Mr. Nakayama said.

Write to Alastair Gale at alastair.gale@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/japan-is-building-missile-bases-to-confront-rising-threat-from-china-1513765804

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One Response to “Japan Is Building Missile Bases to Confront Rising Threat From China”

  1. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

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