As China continues to flex its muscles in the Pacific Rim, Japan is responding by changing its defense strategy with expanded air force and coast guard bases in Okinawa, also home to a large American troop force and the largest U.S. air base in the Asia-Pacific region.

In what has become an everyday activity, the Chinese provoke Japan in some manner with their coast guard vessels, armed fishing boats or by the air. Japan reacts by scrambling fighter jets and sending in coast guard vessels to ward off the intruders. Some have called this a high stakes game of “chicken” and have observed that the aerial and maritime provocations are becoming more intense.

The disputes appear to be in part over five small uninhabited islands under Japanese control, called the Diaoyu by China. Japan calls them the Senkakus islands. They are located east of Okinawa at the halfway point between Okinawa and Taiwan.

China says they have been an integral part of its territory since ancient times and accuses Japan of stealing them in 1895. They claim that the armed fishing boats are merely visiting their traditional fishing grounds and denies its moves are expansionist or aggressive. Japan purchased three of the islands in 2012.

Japan has made other recent moves to counter Chinese actions:

  • It is building a "wall" of defensive installations along the chain of subtropical, touristed islands located in the archipelago's south-western arc. These include missile bases.
  • In March of 2018, a 2,100 member Japanese Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade was created with a mandate to defend islands that could be targets of invasions.
  • Military bases are being established on even more-remote islands to house troops and missiles capable of defending territory, waterways and airspace. Defense experts are calling this the "south-western wall”
  • On the island of Miyako, Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force opened a new base in March for 700 to 800 troops, anti-ship and surface-to-air missile batteries, radar and intelligence-gathering.
  • At the same time a similar base was established on the island of Amami Oshima.
  • Two more smaller bases on other islands are planned that will form the “bricks in the wall."
Japan East China Sea Troops
Representation. Japanese forces on the East China Sea Getty Images/AFP/Toru Yamanaka

Criticism of Japan’s new military posture has been heard by the people of Okinawa. The bitter memories of World War 2 have not faded, and old timers remember tales of how civilians suffered during the fighting between Japanese and American soldiers. 65-year-old Reiko Kamehama, a member of the Okinawa prefectural assembly said, "There is a risk our entire island could become a target. Deploying missiles here won't protect our island. The best deterrent is peaceful diplomacy."