JAPAN has waded into a bitter ongoing dispute involving its superpower neighbour China by purchasing an uninhabited island in the East China Sea, in an apparent attempt to shore up its defences.
In a move which is certain to enrage Beijing, the Japanese Government is spending £113million (16 billion yen) on Mageshima island in the East China Sea. The move echoes China’s increasing militarisation of the South China Sea, where it has fortified a large number of similarly uninhabited islands.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga explained: “It’s important to secure the site for field carrier landing practice from the viewpoint of security so we will continue to try to build a permanent facility at an early date.”
Mr Suga said the deal had been struck “after discussions between the defence ministry and the developer who owns the majority of the island”.
Mageshima, which measures 3.1 square miles, is a part of the Osumi Islands between Kyushi and Okinawa prefectures, and is located 20 miles off the Japanese mainland.
Significantly, it was the site of an airstrip used by the Japanese military towards the end of World War 2.
The island is located more than 500 miles from China’s east coast – but nevertheless, President Xi Jinping and his colleagues are likely to take a dim view of the purchase, which will be seen as a strategic move to contain Chinese ambitions.
In 2011, Tokyo and Washington agreed move relocate a training site for US fighter jets to Mageshima island.
At the moment, American flight training operations are conducted at Iwo Jima, 750 miles (1,200km) south of Tokyo.
The move was requested by Washington, where officials believe Iwo Jima, is too far away from an US military base in the western Japanese city of Iwakuni.
The East China Sea, much like the South China Sea, is a hotly disputed region, lying as it does between China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
To complicate matters still further, it is also thought to be rich in natural resources, including an undersea natural gas field, offering an additional incentive to establish dominance there.
Chinese vessels regularly sail the waters, unsettling neighbouring nations – in June, an aircraft carrier sailed between Okinawa and Miyako Island in a move widely interpreted as an act of aggression.
China has not directly criticised the Japanese Government’s acquisition of Mageshima, but state media agencies have said residents of neighbouring Tanegashima Island have been “staunchly critical”, claiming they feared noise and disruption.
South China Sea mapped
The South China Sea mapped (Image: Daily Express)
By contrast, Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda has welcomed the move, which he called a “big step forward”.
He added: “Building a permanent training facility is necessary to reduce worries among local Iwakuni people.
“We’d like to ask the government to have the facility completed early.”