Japan’s Ishigaki Island is Okinawa Prefecture’s major transportation hub. With the accessibility of the airport, ferry terminal, hotels, shops and idyllic sandy and rocky beaches, the island attracts a huge number local and foreign tourists. But with the hot debates on territorial ownerships between China and Japan, the island has been in the frontline of the dispute, writes Chheang Vannarith.
Located in Japan’s southwestern Okinawa Prefecture, Ishigaki Island is an attractive tourist destination that’s rich in beautiful beaches and marine resources. Being a perfect site for snorkeling, diving, surfing and other underwater activities, the island’s tourism industry grows year after year. In 2018, it welcomed more than 1.2 million tourists.
Ishigaki Island, with a population of about 50,000 and a land area of about 123 square kilometers, is located just 170 kilometers from the Uotsuri Island, the largest island in the disputed Senkaku islands, which is also known as Diaoyu islands in Chinese.
The island is strategically paramount to maintain the power status quo in the East China Sea. The central government of Japan is working closely with the local government of Ishigaki to ensure local people their safety, security and sustainable livelihoods.
With the ever-changing situation in the island over the last ten years, it has now been projected to be the strategic gateway to Asia. The mayor of Ishigaki City, Yoshitaka Nakayama, told Khmer Times that Ishigaki Island has geostrategic advantage to reach out to other Asian countries as well as to protect the sovereignty of Japan.
Japan has already started building military bases on the southern islands from Amami to Miyako and Yonagumi. The Miyako Strait is now the key strategic chokepoint for Japan. More defense infrastructures will be constructed to safeguard the area.
The construction of a military base on the Ishigaki Island will be completed by the end of this year to monitor “foreign activities” in the nearby territorial waters and airspace. Currently, there are more than ten PHLs (Patrol Vessel Large) with helicopters deployed by the Japan Coast Guard to monitor the situation in the surrounding waters.
The tension in the East China Sea remains one of the thorny issues between Japan and China. According to the Japan Coast Guard, the tension reached its peak in 2013 when Chinese vessels “intruded into Japanese territorial water”. After 2014, the situation has been slightly improved, except in 2016 when a high number of Chinese vessels entered into the disputed water.
Remarkably in December 2018, the was situation was most calm. This could be due to the state visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Beijing. Just last month, the Japan Coast Guard reported that there were three cases of Chinese vessels entering into Japanese waters.
Japan and China are developing a mechanism, including hotline communication, in order to avoid miscommunication and miscalculation. Although the security environment in the East China Sea is currently quite stable, there are concerns that the tension will escalate unless both sides could maintain mutual trust and understanding, and build an effective dialogue mechanism.