TOKYO • Japan has doubled the number of F-15 fighter jets deployed on the southern island of Okinawa, near disputed islands in the East China Sea, the defence ministry said yesterday.
Japan's Air Self-Defence Force now has about 40 F-15s on Naha base, according to the defence ministry. The move comes as Japan and China have routinely clashed over ownership of the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Japan administers the uninhabited islands under that name but China also claims them and calls them the Diaoyu Islands.
Chinese ships - mostly coast guard vessels - and aircraft have approached them to back up Beijing's claims and test Japan's response.
"This is a very front line of national defence," said Deputy Defence Minister Kenji Wakamiya, quoted by Jiji Press, at the ceremony yesterday at the Naha base to mark the creation of a new unit composed of the extra jets.
The Japanese government purchased three of the five main Senkaku or Diaoyu islands from a private landowner on Sept 11, 2012 to bring them under its control. The action enraged China and sparked a wave of anti-Japanese protests in the country.
The United States had urged Japan to consult China prior to Tokyo's purchase of the islands, Kyodo News reported yesterday, citing a declassified e-mail message forwarded to then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In the message dated Sept 3, 2012, about a week before Japan's purchase, then US Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell said he had urged Japan's then Vice-Foreign Minister Kenichiro Sasae and the Japanese government to "consult and advise Beijing on their plans".
"Sasae, however, believes that China actually understands the necessity of these actions and will accept them. I'm not so sure," Mr Campbell said in the message sent to senior State Department officials.
The message was declassified on Friday by the State Department in connection with Ms Clinton's use of a private e-mail server for her work as secretary of state, which has been highlighted in her current presidential campaign, according to Kyodo.