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Diaoyu Islands

Japan to build firing range and boost coastguard personnel as Chinese vessels continue to illegally enter waters

Local media reported that Ұ250 million would be spent on building infrastructure on a 700-square-metre site – to be ready in 2019

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 September, 2017, 5:47pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 September, 2017, 8:39pm

Japan is building a firing range on the island of Miyakojima and will hold training missions for coastguard personnel simulating the boarding of Chinese fishing vessels that enter Japanese waters, local media reported.

The Yomiuri newspaper reported that Ұ250 million (HK$17.58 million) would be spent on building the firing range and other infrastructure on a 700-square-metre site that was previously a coastguard facility.

The new range on Miyakojima – located 170km south of the disputed Diaoyu Islands which Japan call the Senkaku Islands – is expected to be completed in 2019.

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The coastguard already has three firing ranges but none in Okinawa prefecture, meaning that small arms and on-board weapons on vessels stationed in the prefecture cannot regularly be tested.

Until October 2016, the coastguard facility on Miyakojima was listed as a “station”, but that was upgraded to a full office with the authority given additional duties in the waters of the East China Sea.

According to the Japanese government, the coastguard had to give 104 warnings to Chinese fishing boats that were detected operating close to the disputed archipelago.

In August, as many as 300 fishing boats were operating within Japan’s exclusive economic zone around the uninhabited islands, escorted by 15 Chinese government vessels.

Miyakojima currently serves as the nearest coastguard port to the islands for three patrol vessels, but that number will be increased to 12 by the 2018 financial year. The number of Japan Coast Guard personnel on the island will also be increased from 55 to 230.

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While the coastguard’s duties are primarily policing, the announcement showed the Japanese government is investing in enhancing its capabilities in the region.

Earlier this year, Japan completed the construction of a military coastal observation base on nearby Yonaguni island. Preparatory work is also under way for the installation of an advanced new radar system and, ultimately, anti-shipping and anti-aircraft missiles.

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“When you put it all together, it might seem a bit intimidating, but the coastguard is separate from the Self-Defence Forces and this appears to be more of a question of logistics,” said Garren Mulloy, a defence expert and associate professor of international relations at Japan’s Daito Bunka University.

“Activity by Chinese ships has become so elevated since 2012 that the Japan Coast Guard is being pulled in too many directions and they just do not have enough ships or personnel to keep on station all the time.

“If they need to replenish their ships, it can be a long haul back to Naha, while a firing range will also enable them to have weapons calibrated at all times.

“I would not categorise this as a warlike move, but more a question of logistics,” Mulloy said. “We will see whether the Chinese see it in quite the same light – although I believe they will be far more worried about anti-shipping missiles.”