Japan will strengthen training procedures for its coast guard to improve their ability to patrol its claimed waters in the East China Sea, where China claims maritime territory and islands administered by Japan.
According to a report in the Yomiuri Shimbun last week citing official Japanese sources, the Japan Coast Guard will set up a shooting range on Miyako Island in Okinawa Prefecture. If completed, this would be the first such facility available to the Japan Coast Guard outside of Honshu, Japan’s largest island.
The island is used by the Japan Coast Guard as a base to support operations and patrols in the East China Sea, including near the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which are claimed by both China and Japan.
According to the Yomiuri report, the Japan Coast Guard has requested 250 million yen to support the building of a shooting range on a former coast guard installation. The facility is expected to open in 2019.
Additionally, the Japan Coast Guard has increased the number of permanently stationed coast guard personnel on Miyako Island from 55 to 180 since the end of the 2015 fiscal year. It has also upgraded the status of the Miyako Coast Guard Office.
The move adds to a list of infrastructure improvements by the Japanese government to support both Japan Coast Guard and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) operations in the East China Sea, which has been identified by the Japanese Ministry of Defense as a major area of concern in recent defense white papers.
The Japan Coast Guard and MSDF give regular warnings to Chinese fishing boats, maritime law enforcement, and naval vessels operating in disputed waters in the East China Sea.
Last year, hundreds of Chinese vessels had entered the contiguous zone and territorial sea around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.
Miyako Island lies to the southeast of the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and flanks the Miyako Strait, an important strategic passageway for the Chinese Navy and Air Force between the East China Sea and the Western Pacific.
Beginning in 2015, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy and People’s Liberation Army-Air Force began conducting regular exercises and transits through the strait to support expeditionary missions into the Pacific Ocean.
Tensions in the East China Sea have risen steadily since 2012, when China reacted negatively to Japan’s decision to nationalize the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands amid concerns that they would be acquired by Tokyo’s former hypernationalist governor, Shintaro Ishihara.
The islands were nationalized roughly five years ago in September 2012.