- 연구원소식 - Jeju, Island of World Peace 컨텐츠
Jeju, Island of World Peace 컨텐츠
Titles [Jeju, Island of World Peace] (No.2 | March 2019)_The Disputed Deployment of Japan Self-Defense Forces to Ishigaki Island
Writer JPI  (admin)
2019-09-17 오후 3:54:31


The Disputed Deployment of Japan Self-Defense Forces to Ishigaki Island




Somei Kobayashi

Associate Professor of College of Law, Nihon University



1. Shaking Okinawans’ Identity on a Small Island

The Okinawa Islands are an island chain located southwest of the Japanese mainland which include Okinawa-honto, the largest island, as well as about 160 other small islands. The area is well known as a resort paradise with many tourists visiting it each year from across Japan and other countries as well, particularly South Korea and China. However, Okinawa has also witnessed tragedy. Its people carry with them tragic memories from their experience of battle against the United States in the Second World War. In March 1945, U.S. forces landed in Okinawa and fought the Japanese military, leaving a quarter of the Okinawan population dead by the end in June 1945. Both U.S. forces and Japanese soldiers killed the Okinawan people and, in some cases, Okinawans were forced to kill themselves.


In April 1952, the Treaty of San Francisco was signed, and Japan recovered its independence, but Okinawa remained under U.S. occupation during which the U.S. built many facilities for military use there. The islands were a strategically significant focal point as the so-called Keystone of the Pacific. Though the U.S.-occupied Okinawa was returned to Japan in May 1972, the strategic importance of Okinawa for the U.S. has not changed. More than 70% of U.S. bases in Japan that are exclusively used by U.S. forces are located in Okinawa prefecture. The existence of U.S. military bases threatens the peaceful existence of Okinawans, leading them to request a reduction in the impact on the islands. The Japanese government has also frequently announced its intention to realign, consolidate, and reduce the facilities and areas of U.S. Forces Japan, including the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, and reducing of the impact of the bases through other measures. Still, no reduction has been forthcoming.


Okinawa was once called Ryukyu, and it was an independent kingdom before its annexation by Japan in 1872. The Okinawans (Ryukyuans) are a peace-loving people who do not seek conflict. Together with this, Okinawans distrust the military, due to their supreme sacrifices in the tremendous violence of the Japanese and the U.S. forces stemming from the annexation of the islands by Japan in 1872 to today. Distrust of both U.S. forces and the Japan Self-Defense Forces linger throughout Okinawan society. For this reason, they wish to build peace without resorting to military power. However, a dispute on a small island has shaken this identity.


2. The Dispute over the Military Deployment on Ishigaki Island

Ishigaki Island, or Ishigaki-jima, a remote island at the southernmost point of the Okinawa (Ryukyu) Islands Chain, has been divided by a dispute over the deployment of Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces to the island. In 2004, the Japanese government officially put forward the “China Threat Theory” for the first time since the end of the Second World War in 1945. The National Defense Program Guidelines published in fiscal year (FY) 2005 and thereafter, as well as the Mid-Term Defense Program (FY 2005–2009), stated that China, with its naturally major relevance for regional security, is continuing to modernize its nuclear forces and missile capabilities as well as its navy and air force. These documents recommended that attention be paid to future action on the part of China.


In 2010, two official documents on Japanese national security policy were released. First, the National Defense Program Guidelines for FY2011 and beyond set out national defense policy in responding to potential attacks on offshore islands. Though the guidelines did not mention this, the context made it clear that the response target was China. The Self-Defense Forces would respond to attacks on Japan’s offshore islands by quickly deploying mobile units to prevent and reject the (Chinese) invasion, in cooperation with other permanently stationed units. Second, the Mid-Term Defense Program (FY2011–FY2015) announced a policy of enhancing the operational capabilities of the Self-Defense Forces, in particular the ground forces, on remote islands. This document outlined a plan for deploying coastal surveillance units and first-response units with ground-based anti-ship missile launchers.


Following guidelines and programs, the deployment of the Ground Self-Defense Forces to remote islands like Yonaguni-jima, Miyako-jima, and Ishigaki-jima was envisioned. This has only been accelerated by increasing tensions between Japan and China since 2013 over the Senkaku dispute. This would be the first time the Self-Defense Forces stationed in Okinawa would be strengthened since the reversion of Okinawa to Japan in 1972. In 2016, a new coast guard unit was established on Yonaguni-jima, and the deployment project of the Ground Self-Defense Forces is currently developing steadily in Miyako-jima.


Although Vice Minister of Defense Kenji Wakamiya turned the decision on whether to deploy Ground Self-Defense Forces over to Yoshitaka Nakayama, the mayor of Ishigaki, in November 2015, Nakayama did not commit himself for two and a half years because the issue was hotly disputed on the island. Opposition groups asserted that the deployment of a military unit with anti-ship missile launchers would increase the risk to life and property in Ishigaki because an enemy might attack the unit with a first strike. Others argued in favor of the deployment, emphasizing the possible benefits, including reinforcing the security of Ishigaki-jima itself against China and the revitalization of the regional economies on the island.


On July 2018, Mayor Nakayama expressed his understanding of the need for deploying the military to the island and allowed the Ministry of Defense to begin actions for deployment. However, the mayor failed to achieve a consensus among the residents in favor of the deployment. In fact, an Ishigaki citizens’ group claimed that the deployment plan should be voted on in a referendum. In January 2019, the group presented a petition to the city council demanding the establishment of local regulations on referenda. The petition was signed by 30% of all voters on the island. In February, the city council rejected the bill on referenda for its inappropriate timing to enable a referendum on the deployment issue. The small island is divided on the issue, and it has shaken the peace-loving identity of Okinawans and their preference not to depend on military power.


3. The Key to Resolving the Global Issue: Ishigaki and Jeju

The dispute on Ishigaki-jima has distressed the people of Ishigaki. Some hope for a peace that could evade the presence of the military and could be achieved in cooperation with China. Others assert that the base can help oppose China. There is also discussion over the benefits that could accrue from the deployment of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces unit to the local economy of Ishigaki. All opinions have merit. It will be difficult to settle the dispute, so the people of Ishigaki are struggling with the divisions in their community.


However, few Japanese are concerned with the Ishigaki people or Okinawans who are confronting such difficulties. Essentially, both the topic of national security and that of the revitalization of the regional economy are critical problems and must be considered by Japan as a whole, not just Okinawans. As the Jeju naval controversy indicated, the scope of Ishigaki’s issue is not limited to Japan. Instead, it can be found dwelling in many areas, societies, and nations. Thus, this is not a local but a global issue, and it can only be settled through the united effort of will on the part of civilians. The Ishigaki dispute and the Jeju case will provide a key for resolving difficult global issues.


Dr. Somei Kobayashi is an associate professor of College of Law, Nihon University. He received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in Social Sciences from Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo, Japan. He specializes in Korean Studies and International History of East Asia during the Cold War.