Japan may further damage already frayed relations with China if it moves military forces closer to a group of islets claimed by both nations, said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University’s Tokyo campus.
The Defense Ministry will deploy as many as 100 personnel to Yonaguni Island, the Nikkei newspaper reported yesterday. That would put Japanese troops within 200 miles (330 kilometers) of waters where its Coast Guard in September seized a Chinese fishing boat after collisions near the disputed isles known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
“This ups the ante,” said Kingston. “Deploying forces closer to the scene of the action won’t be interpreted positively in Beijing.”
China and Japan have yet to implement a 2008 agreement to jointly develop undersea natural gas fields in waters near the islands. Sovereignty over the rocky, uninhabited islets would extend either nation’s territorial claim to undersea resources. Japan’s Coast Guard on Nov. 20 warned two Chinese fishery patrol ships not to enter territorial waters after spotting them near one of the islands.
Japan may also deploy its military to Miyako and Ishigaki islands, Nikkei said. Ishigaki is about 100 miles south of the islet group. Defense and foreign ministry officials weren’t available for comment yesterday on the Nikkei report.