Japan plans to set up a new police unit covering islands disputed with China, which could amplify pressure in a flash point with its neighbor, public broadcaster NHK reported Monday.
Members of the unit will tackle any unauthorized landings in Okinawa Prefecture, including on the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, the report said without citing sources. The Senkaku Islands are also claimed by China, where they are known as the Diaoyu.
Ties between China and Japan deteriorated to their worst point in decades after Japan purchased part of the disputed chain from a private owner in 2012. Relations have now returned to a relatively even keel, but coast guard and military vessels from both countries continue to follow one another around the islands.
In a sign of improving ties, Chinese President Xi Jinping in June became the country’s first leader to visit Japan in nine years. He is expected to make a more formal state visit next year. China is Japan’s largest trading partner.
Japan has already bolstered its military presence on the Ryukyu Islands, the chain that stretches from its main southwest island of Kyushu to waters northeast of Taiwan.
The new police unit will be established next year. Its members will receive special training and will be armed with submachine guns, NHK said in its report. The National Police Agency is also seeking budget for a large helicopter and an increase in personnel in Okinawa, the broadcaster added.
Activists from Hong Kong landed on the disputed islands and were arrested in 2012, according to NHK.