The Senkakus, a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea claimed by Japan and China, are seen from the air in 2010.
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Japan plans to bolster defenses around its disputed southern island chain by creating a specialized police force that will respond to any incursions in the East China Sea.
The news was first reported Monday by Japan public broadcaster NHK, which cited police sources. The Okinawa-based law enforcement unit will be trained in border security tactics and deployed in the next Japanese fiscal year, which begins in April.
The move marks the first time Japanese police will be called to respond to territorial incursions near the Senkaku islands. The uninhabited, resource-rich chain between Okinawa and Taiwan are controlled by Japan but claimed by Taiwan and China, which refers to them as Diaoyu.
The Senkakus have long been a point of contention between China and Japan and the scene of countless disputes in the air and at sea, with Chinese ships, submarines and aircraft buzzing Japan’s contiguous zone just outside its territorial waters.
The National Police Agency’s strengthening and repositioning of forces in the region follows similar actions by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and Japan Coast Guard, the NHK report said.
“The National Police Agency believes that there should be some police expertise to respond to [incursions] and they decided to place a unit in Okinawa,” the report said. “The [unit’s] members will be carrying sub-machine guns and are highly trained in case the trespassers are armed.”
Details of the new police unit are scant. The Japan Coast Guard has traditionally served as a first responder to any territorial incursions in the East China Sea. Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force is called in if necessary.
The new police unit will more likely work with the Japan Coast Guard than the Self-Defense Force, according to a Ministry of Defense spokesman. Coast Guard officials said there are no plans for joint missions with the police.
It is customary in Japan for government spokespeople to speak on condition that their names not be used in press reports.
Officials from Japan’s Cabinet Office declined to comment.
Despite the lack of details, the National Police Agency’s fiscal 2020 budget request offers a window into the plans. The request, which can be found on the agency’s website, seeks an additional 159 police officers to respond to “armed groups invading isolated islands.”
Those policemen would be split between Okinawa — 263 miles east of the Senkakus — and Fukuoka, which is on Kyushu, one of the four main islands of Japan, and close to Iki and Tsushima islands, for possible response to incursion there. Tsushima was once claimed by South Korea.
The National Police Agency also plans to add one new helicopter on Okinawa and another in Fukuoka, Japan’s Sankei newspaper reported.
In August 2012, a group of Chinese activists were arrested after landing on one of the Senkaku islands, according to Japanese media reports. Japan subsequently announced plans to develop underwater drones to monitor its remote islands and supersonic glide bombs that can be launched from nearby islands to deter attacks.
The United States has long declined to take a position on the islands’ sovereignty; however, Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump have both declared the Senkakus will be protected under the U.S-Japan security alliance.
The budget request will be evaluated by Japan’s Ministry of Finance at the end of December and taken up by the Diet in early January, a Ministry of Finance spokeswoman said Tuesday.