KEY POINTS

  • Japan plans to bulk up Ishigaki island, situated 300 kilometers from Taiwan
  • There is also a plan to set up an e-warfare unit on the Yonaguni island
  • The defense white paper said the conflict in Taiwan is a challenge to Japan's security.

As much as its intention to support Taiwan, Japan's latest move to deploy extra defense personnel and missiles on an island near the island nation is a strategy to defend itself from China, say analysts.

A report by Nikkei Asia said Tokyo's plan to bulk up Ishigaki island, situated 300 kilometers from Taiwan, is significant as "any attack on Taiwan could quickly spread to Japan's southern islands -- Tokyo's front line of defense."

Earlier this month, Japan’s defense minister Kishi Nobuo confirmed plans to deploy several hundreds of troops and anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles on Ishigaki to counter threats from China's growing military.

Kishi added that the medium-range ground-to-air guided ammunition units, ground-to-ship guided ammunition units, and 500 to 600 troops will be placed on the island by March 2023. This comes as China has increased its naval presence near Taiwan.

Ishigaki will become the fourth missile-armed island in the Ryukyu island chain. A report by Yomiuri newspaper said the defense ministry is also planning to set up an electronic warfare unit on the Yonaguni island, another island in the Ryukyu chain. Yonaguni is just 110 km away from Taiwan.

In April, Kishi visited Yonaguni, telling reporters, "when I come to Yonaguni, I can see that Taiwan is very close [about 60 nautical miles away], right on the opposite shore." He added that the peace and stability of Taiwan are linked to the peace and prosperity of the region and the international community.

According to the report, Kishi's new plans and an unprecedented statement about the need to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack "publicly links Taiwan's security to Japan's own."

Last month, the defense white paper of the nation also referred to the security of Taiwan for the first time, saying that "a conflict in the Taiwan Strait would present one of the biggest challenges to Japan's security."

Lu Li-shih, a former captain of a Taiwanese naval patrol corvette, told Nikkei Asia that boosting the defense capabilities of Ryukyu islands would help to block China's military from reaching the eastern waters of Taiwan in the event of a conflict. 

"The deployment not only defends the Japanese islands but will also prevent the Taiwanese military from being confronted by the enemy on both its western and eastern sides," he said. 

He added that stationing the missiles on its outer islands "is not only about Japan defending Okinawa and the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands, it is also about preparing for an armed invasion of Taiwan by the People's Liberation Army. " 

Drew Thompson, a former U.S. defense department official with responsibility for China, told Nikkei Asia that Tokyo sees the threat from China as having intensified because of China's very aggressive, almost belligerent posture toward its neighbors.

He added that there is a realization in Tokyo that they need to invest more in defending Japan's remote territory, like the Senkaku Islands, which is close to potential Chinese targets.

"Should Beijing use force against either Taiwan or the Senkakus the battlespace wouldn't be limited to just one place or the other, it would encompass essentially the theater, and Japanese territory would be very much involved in a contingency around Taiwan in particular," added Thompson. 

Senkaku Islands, Japan A group of disputed islands, Uotsuri island (top), Minamikojima (bottom) and Kitakojima, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China is seen in the East China Sea, in this photo taken by Kyodo in Sep. 2012. Photo: Reuters/Kyodo