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Understanding Japan’s southwest islands buildup

15 19 0

NIIGATA - First, Yonaguni. Then, Amami Oshima and Miyakojima. Next is Ishigaki.

Each of those southern islands have seen or will see expansion of Ground Self-Defense Force units and facilities. This expansion of the Self-Defense Forces’ presence across the “first island chain” is part of Japan’s “southwest island defense” design. The personnel there are positioning against a potential Senkaku Islands crisis and increasing transit of Chinese military aircraft and vessels through the area.

For Japan, self-reliance is particularly important with these bases because of the “gray zone” threat they represent. Of course, as with most things defense-related in Japan, domestic politics plays a notable role in the process, and negotiating acceptance of the new facilities without imposing too many operational constraints will be a challenging balancing act for the government.

The string of Japanese islands that stretch between Kyushu and Taiwan are part of the “first island chain” — the first line of land features extending beyond continental East Asia. For major continental powers like Russia and China, the first island chain represents a barrier to the broader Pacific. For the countries controlling the chain, it represents a security challenge, both in containment of continental military threats and preservation of one’s own sovereignty.

As an archipelagic nation, controlling traffic through Japan’s many waterways is challenging, to say the least. Legal measures put in place in 1977 restricted uninhibited foreign maritime traffic to only five of Japan’s many straits: Soya, Tsugaru, Tsushima East, Tsushima West and Osumi. In many ways, this was sufficient before continental powers were capable of projecting to the broader Pacific Ocean, but those circumstances........

© The Japan Times