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July 27, 2017

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Why try to rock the boat?

Japan seems to have made a truly incomprehensible decision, which can only be interpreted as an inane attempt to rock the boat in the East China Sea. If implemented, the decision would make it necessary for Japan to deploy its soldiers on two of the Ryukyu Islands, which are administered as the prefecture of Okinawa.

Minister of Defense Toshimi Kitazawa, according to the Kyodo News Agency, announced on last Tuesday Japan's Self-Defense Forces are "positively considering" deploying personnel on Miyako Island or Ishigaki-jima in the next five to eight years and stationing a 100-man coastal surveillance unit on Yonaguni Island in response to growing naval activities of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). He was quoted as saying, "Defending strong points in the Sakishima chain is very important. We are positively considering the plan." The Sakishimas, part of the Ryukyu island chain, include Miyako and Ishigaki, as well as the Senkakus, the eight uninhabited islets over which Taiwan and the People's Republic of China claim sovereignty. Yonaguni is closest to Taiwan, and on a very fine day, the people on Gueishan Island off Yilan can see the inhabited Japanese islet. Of course, Taipei has expressed concerns. It also expressed its concerns to Tokyo late last month after Japan unilaterally extended its Air Defense Identification Zone from Yonaguni westwards to overlap with sections of that of Taiwan.

The PLA Navy certainly is very active in the East China Sea. It wants to show its flag in the Western Pacific, and one way to reach its waters is through the southernmost part of the Ryukyu chain. That is cause of concern to the Japanese, who boasted one of the world's strongest navies prior to the Second World War. China is building a blue water fleet including an aircraft carrier, which even when combat ready in years, cannot match the Imperial Navy that destroyed the entire U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and secured air and sea supremacy in the Pacific during the first year of what the Japanese used to call the Great East Asian War. Japan has no plans to rebuild a big navy to cope with the PLA fleet, instead relying on Uncle Sam, who has a navy second to none in the world, for its sea defense. Beijing never even tries to match the American sea power.

As an independent state, Japan has every right to station troops anywhere it wishes within its own territory. It has deployed most of them in Hokkaido, where the Japanese feared a Russian invasion would take place. After the Cold War, its potential enemy is the People's Republic and North Korea. Neither actually can invade Japan by landing ground forces, the only possible attacks being by missiles. (Japan has a more than credible air self-defense force to discourage possible air attacks.) To guard against Chinese missile attacks, a surveillance unit may be necessary, but not foot soldiers either on Miyako or Ishigaki. Incidentally, both islands are far off any possible route of North Korean missile attacks. So why should Japan positively consider a troop deployment on either of the islands?

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