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.Yonaguni had old connections to Taiwan during the Japanese period. This 2008 article points out that the island was looking for tourism from Taiwan:
But the deployment plan has created an uncharacteristic uproar on this normally sleepy island. A local election held in September, in the midst of the trawler standoff, turned into a bitterly fought referendum over whether to accept the garrison, with supporters winning four of the six town council seats up for grabs.
The supporters of the garrison, led by Mr. Hokama, say they hope the base brings not only peace of mind but also an influx of badly needed jobs and youthful residents, especially if the soldiers come with their families. They hope this will provide a lift for an economically depressed island that currently lacks either a high school or a hospital, and where the number of residents has fallen by 250, or almost 15 percent of the population, during the past decade alone.
Before World War II, when Taiwan was under Japanese control and there was no border between the two islands, Yonaguni was affluent and had a population of 4,000 to 5,000 who could freely visit Taiwan, about 110 km away.Currently each side is blaming the other for the fact that there are no flights between them, even though they are just ~100 kms apart.
"If we can function as a border, people and material goods from Taiwan, which has a population of 23 million, will come through Yonaguni, which has a history of sharing culture and of living within the sphere of Taiwan," said Chiyoki Tasato, head of the Hualien liaison office.
The map above shows the proximity of Yonaguni to the Senkakus, and also another interesting fact: the closeness of the Japanese islands to Taiwan means that an attack on Taiwan from China that involves operations against the northeastern and eastern side of the island of Taiwan -- highly probable given the naval base at Suao -- will have to go through Japanese air and sea space. In December the US and Japan held a naval exercise aimed at a scenario in which they have to recover islands from an attacker who invaded and occupied them. Arthur Waldron, the longtime scholar and commentator on Taiwan affairs, observed in September:
Held in Dec, the exercise was disrupted by the appearance of Russian aircraft.
Waldron said the Japanese-held Ryukyu Islands could effectively block any Chinese attempt to attack the east coast of Taiwan from the north.
“In case of conflict, the actual Taiwan Strait itself is likely to be impassable, as each side will have the ability to destroy just about anything that moves,” he wrote.
“This would mean that the only attack direction is from the southeast, which means passing to the east, north of the Philippines, at the point where the strait is widest, before turning to the north and east to gain access to Taiwan’s strategic east coast — with its high stone cliffs and very deep water, good for submarines,” Waldron said.
“My own view is that if the defender had good anti-ship missile capabilities, which according to some reports Taiwan does, this would be a very risky operation,” he said.
In their joint study, Holmes and Yoshihara said the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has been making efforts to break out of the first island chain and operate freely in the Western Pacific, “either to threaten the east coast of Taiwan or for some other purpose.”
They add that occupying one or more of the Ryukyus offers one way for the PLAN to do so.
Anyone want to go this summer? I'd love to charter a boat and visit Yonaguni island.
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