Japanese Deputy Defense Minister Kenji Wakamiya met southern Ishigaki Island mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama to discuss sending hundreds of troops to bolster the country's defense on the disputed East China Sea islands, the Associated Press (AP) reported, citing ministry officials. Tokyo plans to deploy about 500 ground troops starting 2019.

The personnel would belong to emergency response units that can react in case of infiltration in nearby islands or for missile defense, the AP reported. The Ishigaki Islands have jurisdiction over the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands, which have also been claimed by China and are called Diaoyu in Beijing. Tokyo’s move to ramp up security efforts in the region comes as China has been building up its military forces and patrolling in the disputed islands. China and North Korea's missile and nuclear ambitions have also become a key concern for Japan.

Tokyo is creating a base on the island of Yonaguni, close to Taiwan, where it is set to deploy 150 coastal monitoring troops. By 2018, the country also plans to send hundreds more to Miyako and Amamioshima islands, both of which lie east of Yonaguni. According to a report by Japan Times, China has been continuing its unilateral gas development near Japan’s exclusive economic zone while its naval ships have also repeatedly intruded into Japan’s territorial waters.

On Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke during a bilateral summit meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Manila, Philippines, and raised concerns over the increasing activity by China in the East China Sea, the Japan Times reported.

The Japan Times report also cited a source to say that Japan will increase its ability to defend its southwestern islands and also plans to ask China to implement a maritime and air communications mechanism to avoid accidental clashes. Japan reportedly expects to get China to implement the mechanism and also bring up pending issues to be discussed at the high-level talks on maritime issues to be held next month in China’s Xiamen.