Tokyo signals defense shift to disputed islands

Updated: 2012-09-08 02:31

By ZHANG YUNBI (China Daily)

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Tokyo unveiled plans on Friday to seek more national funding for vessels and manpower to enhance their presence in remote islands, a move believed to be aimed at beefing up their claim over China's Diaoyu Islands.

Amid escalating tensions between China and Japan over the islands in the East China Sea, the Japanese Coast Guard on Friday released plans to seek more money in the 2013 financial year to purchase four patrol ships to equip the major forces engaged in "safeguarding territorial waters", Japan’s Jiji Press News Agency said.

Japan will buy another three large patrol vessels to deal with any ships protesting its territorial claims and will add about 150 military personnel to “beef up maritime guarding and anti-disaster mechanisms”.

The Japanese Defense Ministry on Friday said it requested 4.57 trillion yen ($58 billion) in budget appropriations for the year starting next April 1, down 1.7 percent from the current budget.

But the ministry plans to earmark 2.5 billion yen in next year’s budget to buy four armored amphibious vehicles, which could be used to counter threats against remote islands.

"In Japan’s southwest, for example, there are many small islands. It is just not feasible to deploy troops to each island," a ministry official said.

Zhou Yongsheng, an expert on Japanese studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said Tokyo was backing it's diplomacy up with action.

"Tokyo is now tweaking its defense emphasis to enhance deployment in the region to back its diplomacy, and Tokyo’s policy priorities still largely lie in diplomacy (rather than defense affairs)," Zhou said.

Tokyo engaged in a sweeping update of its national defense policies two years ago, and it has been bolstering its defense posture in its southwest, where it has laid claim over China’s Diaoyu Islands, a traditional fishing ground for generations of Chinese fishermen and known for potentially large gas reserves.

Ties between China and Japan have been strained since 2010, when a Chinese trawler collided with two Japanese Coast Guard patrol vessels.

The trawler's captain was held by Japanese authorities for what Tokyo called “illegal fishing” off the islands.

In mid-August this year, Japan's Coast Guard patrol ships rammed into a Chinese boat from Hong Kong carrying around 14 Chinese nationals to assert China's sovereignty.

Several of the protesters on board the vessel jumped into the sea and managed to swim ashore. Japan illegally detained the activists after some of them landed on the Diaoyu Islands.

Japan also has an overlapping territorial claim with South Korea over islands located about midway between the two countries, which Seoul calls Dokdo and Tokyo calls Takeshima.

Japan had a tense diplomatic spat with South Korea after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited the islands last month.

"The new budget plans may have a minor effect on relations, but the effect will not be big enough to trigger immediate confrontation between Tokyo and Beijing or between Tokyo and Seoul", Zhou Yongsheng said.

Last month, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda vowed to protect all of Japan’s territories and waters, but also said the government would deal with territorial disputes calmly.

Liu Yedan and Reuters contributed to this story