Japan’s Troop Plan for Yonaguni Isle Divides Residents

YONAGUNI ISLAND, Japan — This remote island in the rough East China Sea is known for its gigantic moths, fiery Okinawan alcohol and an offshore rock formation that some believe to be the submerged ruins of a lost, Atlantis-like civilization.

Yonaguni is closer to Taiwan and China than to Tokyo; many residents would prefer expanded trade over a military base.

Now, Tokyo is drawing up plans to add something else: about 100 soldiers from the Self-Defense Force, Japan’s military.

Yonaguni, with three tiny villages and a small airport, is Japan’s westernmost point, a place from which Taiwan is visible on a clear day. It is also the closest spot of inhabited land to the Senkakus, a small group of uninhabited islets controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan, which call them the Diaoyu Islands.

This put Yonaguni and its 1,600 mostly aging residents uncomfortably close to a bruising diplomatic showdown with Beijing last September over a Chinese trawler detained near the Senkakus, which resulted in Tokyo’s backing down. The government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan has since vowed to beef up defenses for Japan’s “outlying islands,” and it appears close to a decision on the small Yonaguni garrison, a plan that has been under discussion for years.

“China keeps coming, and all we have protecting us now is a pair of pistols,” said Yonaguni’s mayor, Shukichi Hokama, referring to the two policemen who are the island’s only security presence.

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