Funds gripe snags SDF isle defense deployment

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

The Defense Ministry may have to abandon a plan to station a Ground Self-Defense Force coastal monitoring unit on Okinawa’s Yonaguni Island because negotiations with the town over the price of land have deadlocked.

“If the current situation continues, we have no choice but to revise the whole plan,” a ministry official told The Japan Times on Thursday, adding that the deployment of the unit is urgently needed to bolster defenses in the Nansei Islands to counter China’s continuing threat to take possession of the Senkaku islets in the East China Sea.

On Thursday, the Sankei Shimbun reported that Ishigaki Island is a strong candidate to replace Yonaguni, which is at the westernmost tip of the chain.

The ministry reportedly offered the town about ¥100 million for the land in early March. However, Yonaguni Mayor Shukichi Hokama asked the government for ¥1 billion as an “inconvenience fee,” which he later rechristened “municipal cooperation fees.”

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera brushed off the request on March 26, saying the ministry would revise the deployment plan if it couldn’t gain the town’s “understanding.”

The ministry wants to deploy some 100 GSDF members to Yonaguni by the end of fiscal 2015. Currently, no Self-Defense Forces personnel are stationed in Okinawa outside the main island.

The ministry had initially planned to conclude negotiations to purchase land on Yonaguni by the end of fiscal 2012.

Unless the mayor changes his mind, the ministry plans to go back to the drawing board and find another island for the unit, the official said.

But with the mayoral election set for this summer, it’s unlikely he will withdraw his request.

Mayor Hokama reportedly said he has no intention of compromising on the price.

The GSDF deployment is important for strengthening the surveillance capability in the area, said Toshiyuki Shikata, a former GSDF general and now a Teikyo University professor.

“It’s not about placing combat forces on the island,” Shikata said, suggesting a 100- to 200-strong force would be insufficient to thwart an invasion. “But the deployment is important from aspects of watching out (for encroaching vessels and aircraft), and also as a gesture to say it is Japanese territory,” he said.