In a move expected to further ratchet up tensions with Beijing in the East China Sea, Tokyo brought its new radar station on Yonaguni Island in Okinawa Prefecture online Monday.
The listening post on the nation’s westernmost inhabited island is just over 100 km east of Taiwan and nearly 150 km south of the flash point Senkaku Islands. The Senkakus are administered by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan, which call them Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai.
The permanent surveillance installation will be manned by a contingent of about 160 Ground Self-Defense Force soldiers. The tiny island has a population of about 1,500.
“Establishing a stable defense setup in the area of the Nansei Islands represents our country’s commitment to defense,” GSDF Lt. Gen. Kiyoshi Ogawa said during a ceremony on Yonaguni to present a flag to Daigo Shiomitsu, commander of the new unit.
Shiomitsu said after the event: “We are required to quickly react to various situations. We hope to deal with them appropriately.”
The radar installation on Yonaguni, part of the Sakishima Islands in the larger Nansei chain, which is also known as the Ryukyu Islands, will provide a substantial boost to Japan’s ground-based surveillance network and extend its intelligence-gathering capabilities — possibly as far as the northern tip of the South China Sea.
“One of its main sources of tactical utility . . . will be to monitor China’s activities in the East China Sea, including around the Senkakus, the Miyako Strait — and possibly as far as the Bashi Channel and northern end of the South China Sea,” said Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney.
“It could play a role in intercepting high-frequency communications out to a much wider radius, including the Chinese mainland, South China Sea, Russia and North Korea,” Graham added.
The site could also aid in tracking North Korea’s long-range rocket or missile launches, which often pass overhead, Graham said.
The push deep into Japan’s western frontier is part of a long-planned strategy to bolster the nation’s defenses in the Nansei chain and surrounding areas, defense experts say.
“The Yonaguni radar site is aimed at strengthening JSDF air and maritime domain awareness around the Senkaku Islands and Taiwan,” said Tetsuo Kotani, a senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo.
Kotani, who visited and was briefed on the new installation in September, said the move comes as Tokyo beefs up its presence on nearby Miyako in Okinawa, Amami-Oshima in Kagoshima and other key southwestern islands.
The Yonaguni outpost could also help Tokyo better manage “gray zone” incidents in the waters and nearby islands, Kotani added.
The new radar site will give Tokyo a first line of defense as it keeps a wary eye on a more aggressive Beijing.
“Establishing an SDF presence on the Sakishima Islands is more generally aimed at deterring aggression from China, ensuring forewarning is provided as far as possible, and that a tripwire is in place,” said Graham.
Information from Kyodo added