TOKYO — The Japanese government is considering newly deploying to the main island of Okinawa a surface-to-ship missile unit to beef up defenses in response to China’s maritime assertiveness, government sources said Tuesday.
Tokyo has been proceeding with a plan to install a surface-to-ship missile unit on Okinawa’s Miyako Island to enhance defense against threats to remote islands in the southwest. But it believes Okinawa Island should also have a unit as Chinese naval ships have frequently passed between the two islands in the East China Sea.
Miyako Island is located about 290 kilometers southwest of the main island of Okinawa. The armaments to be deployed on the islands are expected to be the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Type-12 surface-to-ship missiles, with a range of more than 100 kilometers.
By placing missile units on Miyako and Okinawa, the Japanese government believes they will be able to cover the entire sea area between the two islands.
Since four Chinese navy vessels passed between the Okinawa main island and Miyako Island for the first time in November 2008, a number of Chinese ships have traveled the sea area. Although navigating on the high seas does not infringe on international law, Tokyo has been on alert over such moves.
The unit deployment plan may be included in Japan’s defense buildup guidelines and a new five-year defense spending and procurement plan, both to be crafted by the end of the year, the sources said.
The defense plan may anger locals in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.
Apart from Miyako Island, the Defense Ministry already has plans to deploy units in charge of antiship missile operations and air defense on Kagoshima’s Amami-Oshima Island and Okinawa’s Ishigaki Island.
The sources said an administrative command center is also expected to be set up on Okinawa’s main island, putting under control the surface-to-ship units stationed on Miyako, Amami-Oshima and Ishigaki islands.
Miyako and Ishigaki islands are also not far from the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which China claims, calling them Diaoyu. Chinese government ships have repeatedly entered Japanese waters around the islands, creating tensions.