JAPAN is set to deploy anti-aircraft and anti-ship missile units on an island less than 200 miles from Taiwan in a clear signal to China, the country's top defence official has confirmed.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Nobuo Kishi said the Japanese government would be placing an additional “500 to 600” missile defence personnel on Ishigaki, part of Okinawa Prefecture, which lies toward the end of the Nansei island chain - just 185 miles from Taiwan and even closer to the Senkaku Islands, over which Japan, China and Taiwan all claim sovereignty. Mr Kishi said details were still being finalised, but suggested the new arrangements should be in place by the end of next year.
Mr Kishi paid a visit to Japanese troops on Yonaguni in April, at which time he said he could almost see the coast of Taiwan, which is located less than 70 miles away.
The move is likely to be a response to China’s activities in the region, specifically its rapidly expanding blue-water navy, which in recent months has conducted military drills close by and sailed through the Miyako Strait which separates Miyako Island from Okinawa Island.
Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun suggested a new unit will operate "surface-to-ship and ground-to-air missiles," with a second handling “the initial response phase in the event of a major disaster or armed attack”.
Analysts believe China is developing what they refer to as anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) capabilities around island chain choke points to prevent US forces intervening in a regional conflict, which would probably centre on Taiwan itself, which China regards as a part of its territory.
Strategists think Chinese carriers and warships would be deployed to the east of Taiwan during a conflict, as opposed to entering the narrow Taiwan Strait.
Japan's annual defence white paper, published last month, raised concerns about the activities of Chinese coast guard around the Senkaku Islands, which Beijing refers to as Diaoyu.
Crucially, the document also referred to the security of Taiwan for the first time.
Tokyo has recently linked its own national security with the continuation of Taiwan's democracy, prompting the Chinese Foreign Ministry to protest at what it regards as interference in its internal affairs.
Speaking to the Financial Times on Monday, Mr Kishi accused China of trying to "envelop Taiwan".
He further urged members of the international community to demand peace in the Taiwan Strait.
He added: "Rather than a direct military collision between China and Taiwan, international society needs to pay greater attention to the survival of Taiwan.”
Speaking to Express.co.uk last month, Tobias Ellwood, chairman of Parliament’s Defence Committee and a member of the China Research Group, told Express.co.uk: “China is clearly seeking to become so large that nobody will dare challenge it.
“This is its direction and travel as it reinterprets our international rules for its own benefit.”
Speaking of the country’s powerful President, Xi Jinping, the MP for Bournemouth East added: “He has now consolidated his power over Hong Kong - this ‘one country two systems' thing is completely out the window.