Japan plans police unit for isles disputed with China

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89) transits in formation with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships JS Kirisame (DD 104) and JS Asayuki (DD 132) during bilateral training in South China Sea.
Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89) transits in formation with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships JS Kirisame (DD 104) and JS Asayuki (DD 132) during bilateral training in South China Sea.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Japan plans to set up a new police unit covering islands disputed with China, public broadcaster NHK reported, which could step up pressure in a flash point with its neighbour.

Members of the unit will tackle any unauthorised landings in the southern prefecture of Okinawa, including on the disputed islands known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in China, NHK reported on Monday (Sept 2), without saying where it got the information.

Ties between China and Japan deteriorated to their worst point in decades after Japan purchased part of the disputed chain from a private owner in 2012. Relations have now returned to a relatively even keel, but coast guard and military vessels from both countries continue to follow one another around the islands.

In a sign of the easing ties, Mr Xi Jinping in June became the first Chinese president to visit Japan in nine years, and is expected to make a more formal state visit next year. China is Japan's largest trading partner.

Japan has already bolstered its military presence on the Ryukyu Islands, the chain that stretches from its main southwest island of Kyushu to waters northeast of Taiwan.

The new police unit will be established next year and members - to be armed with submachine guns - will receive special training, NHK said. The National Police Agency is seeking a budget for a large helicopter and an increase in personnel in Okinawa, the broadcaster added.

Activists from Hong Kong landed on the disputed islands and were arrested in 2012, according to NHK.