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  • Planned facility near Diaoyutais could hurt China-Japan ties: expert

    Taipei, Sept. 11 (CNA) Sino-Japanese relations could plummet to a new low if a report that the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) is planning to establish a military firing range on the Miyako Islands proves to be true, a Taiwanese scholar has argued.

    Monday marked the fifth anniversary of Japan’s nationalization of the Diaoyutai Islands, a chain of islands in the East China Sea that Japan, Taiwan, and China all claim as their own but are administered by Japan.

    On the anniversary, National Taiwan Normal University political science professor Fan Shih-ping (范世平) called Japan’s reported plans to build a military firing range on the nearby islands for training purposes as "provocative."

    "Thus far, there are no military facilities on the islands," Fan said. "This would come across as provocative and would definitely incite a reaction from China."

    Japanese newspaper the Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Sept. 6 that the JCG intends to boost training for its officers in charge of protecting the nearby islands by building a firing range in 2019. Miyako is located 200 km southeast of Diaoyutais.

    The report said the JCG also plans to conduct drills in which it would simulate the encroachment of Chinese fishing and official vessels in waters near the islands and try to force them out.

    Fan said he did not know if the report was accurate, but argued that Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) would feel pressured to react with more Chinese planes and ships circling the islands should Japan take such actions.

    This report comes at a time when Sino-Japanese relations are improving, Fan said.

    He cited increased tourism between the two countries as well as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s conditional support for China’s "One Belt, One Road" initiative as friendly demonstrations from both parties.

    If Japan chooses to go ahead with the military installation, Xi, with the pressure of the upcoming election of the National People’s Congress, will have to respond or risk appearing weak, the professor said.

    Already a sensitive subject, the Diaoyutai issue could become even more complicated with U.S. involvement.

    Earlier in August, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that the U.S. opposes "any unilateral action that seeks to undermine Japan’s administration of the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyutais)."

    On Tillerson’s comment, Fan said that while U.S. President Donald Trump does not really want to deal with the Diaoyutais issue given the many domestic issues he has on his plate, the U.S. may end up accepting Japan’s plans to build the training range, albeit reluctantly.

    The U.S. knows that the facility on the islands would further destabilize an already unstable region, but it could use this as a bargaining chip to get Japan to be more involved in its dealings with North Korea, Fan said.

    On the flip side, the U.S. has gotten nowhere in its quest to get China more involved in the North Korea situation, so it could use Japan’s plans as a way to teach China a lesson, he said.

    (By Kelven Huang, Rita Cheng, and Kuan-lin Liu)