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The Defense Ministry is considering dispatching the Ground Self-Defense Force’s border security and coastal monitoring units to islands in Okinawa Prefecture in about five to eight years, senior ministry officials said Monday.

In response to such factors as activity by Chinese naval vessels, the ministry is eyeing reinforcing surveillance along Japan’s western border.

The Self-Defense Forces have only a sparse presence in areas to the west of Okinawa’s main island, but the move is likely to draw protests from China and Taiwan because the units would be stationed close to islands disputed by the three sides.

The plan involves deploying in stages several hundred GSDF members in charge of border security to Miyako and Ishigaki islands and about 100 troops for coastal monitoring to Yonaguni Island, the officials said.

Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa has already expressed his intention to seek funding in fiscal 2011 for conducting preliminary surveys for deploying the GSDF in the Sakishima island chain in Okinawa Prefecture.

The Sakishima islands include the Miyako chain and the Yaeyama chain, including Ishigaki and Yonaguni islands.

In the new versions of the national defense program outline and the midterm defense buildup program from fiscal 2011, the ministry intends to call for beefing up defense of smaller islands to cope with disasters and conduct warning and surveillance activities.

According to the ministry officials, the border security units considered for dispatch to Miyako and Ishigaki islands are envisioned to be similar to the 300-strong GSDF Tsushima Area Security Force in Nagasaki Prefecture, whose main duties include coastal monitoring and initial response to invasion by armed guerrillas.

The coastal monitoring unit to be sent to Yonaguni Island, Japan’s westernmost territory, will be modeled on the GSDF’s 301st Coast Observation Unit, made up of about 100 personnel, in Wakkanai, Hokkaido.

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