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Japan’s frontier islanders decry lack of gov’t plan to assist Taiwanese fleeing assault

Sonkichi Sakihara recollects chancing upon a few of the final refugees to reach on Yonaguni: 4 males who had sailed greater than 2,000 kilometers from Vietnam to achieve Japan’s westernmost inhabited island. It was 1977.

“I was out checking for stowaways from Taiwan when I found them,” Sakihara, 80, stated at his household retailer close to the port the place he encountered the group, amongst 113 Vietnamese to make the journey after the warfare ended.

Today, some residents of Yonaguni foresee one other refugee disaster that they are saying their remoted outpost and its dwindling inhabitants of lower than 1,700 can be ill-equipped to deal with. Just 110 kilometers to the west, and infrequently seen from Yonaguni, is Taiwan, the self-ruled island of 24 million that China asserts is its territory and which Beijing is menacing with simulated missile strikes and different shows of navy firepower.

Concerned concerning the potential for battle, Japan has launched into its greatest protection build-up since World War II. But the $290 billion outlay comes with no parallel plan to organize Yonaguni for a attainable humanitarian disaster that residents like Sakihara say might shortly overwhelm their shores.

In interviews with Reuters, greater than two dozen present and former Japanese officers and residents stated a whole bunch, if not hundreds of refugees might attempt to attain Yonaguni in boats if China attacked Taiwan. Tokyo, they stated, has no plan to cope with them, and locals’ pleas for assist have gone unanswered.

Yonaguni Mayor Kenichi Itokazu speaks throughout an interview with Reuters at Yonaguni city corridor on November 9. Photo: Reuters/ISSEI KATO

“It’s like their mouths are taped shut,” stated Yonaguni Mayor Kenichi Itokazu, referring to the central authorities. Pinned to a noticeboard at his city corridor was a listing of typhoons and different crises to have visited the island, together with the arrival of the Vietnamese.

Itokazu stated he had appealed for assist on to Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno when he got here to Yonaguni in July, however once more obtained no response.

Some U.S. officers say China could also be able to invade Taiwan by 2027. Chinese chief Xi Jinping advised U.S. President Joe Biden final month that no such plan exists, however he’s elevating stress on Taiwan forward of a Jan. 13 presidential election that Vice President Lai Ching-te, who Beijing views as a separatist, is tipped to win.

Taiwan’s overseas ministry declined to handle questions on whether or not it had mentioned humanitarian contingencies with Japan, however stated Taipei wouldn’t act rashly or succumb to Chinese coercion.

A spokesperson for Japan’s Cabinet Secretariat stated that “if large numbers of refugees came to Japan, relevant government departments would work together to respond”.

He declined to touch upon whether or not there was a selected plan for Yonaguni and stated he didn’t know whether or not the island’s mayor had straight requested Matsuno for assist.


The individuals who spoke to Reuters included 9 present and 6 former officers with information of Japan’s emergency planning, a few of whom spoke on the situation of anonymity as a result of they weren’t licensed to remark publicly.

They stated that whereas Taiwanese refugees might flee to Japan by sea, the character of any battle and the numbers who would come have been laborious to foretell. Japan’s authorities has made no public point out of such a situation.

“There could be hundreds of boats, too many even for a Chinese blockade to stop,” a Japan Coast Guard official stated. The Cabinet Secretariat, headed by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and run by Matsuno, is chargeable for devising a plan, he added.

The present and former officers described a authorities targeted on its navy build-up fairly than a posh humanitarian response plan encompassing the a number of departments, native authorities and firms that must display screen, transport, feed and home presumably extra refugees than Japan has ever encountered.

Around 18,000 refugees have been in Japan in 2022, largely from Myanmar, in response to the Migration Policy Institute, which cited United Nations figures that apply a broader definition than Japan’s authorities. Amid battle in Europe and the Middle East, Germany had greater than 2 million and Poland nearly 1,000,000, many from Ukraine.

Tokyo has a political determination to make on whether or not to just accept vital numbers of refugees, stated Kevin Maher at NMV Consulting in Washington, who was beforehand head of Japan affairs on the State Department.

“Japan has been reluctant to let in large numbers but, whatever the policy may be, the reality is that just about anything that floats could be headed for Japan,” Maher stated.


General Yoshihide Yoshida, the top of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF), stated he witnessed the refugee disaster attributable to Russia’s assault on Ukraine when he visited Poland final 12 months.

“If something similar happened near us we would have to offer the same kind of humanitarian response, but that shouldn’t be left to the SDF, it’s for the whole of government to consider thoroughly,” he stated on Tokunoshima, on the jap finish of the island chain that features Yonaguni, the place he was observing seashore touchdown drills by Japanese forces on Nov 19.

That day, Taiwan detected Chinese plane over the Taiwan Strait and noticed warships finishing up fight readiness patrols.

The roughly 200 SDF troops on Yonaguni may very well be among the many first to answer any refugee disaster ought to East Asia, as Kishida warned final 12 months, turn out to be the subsequent Ukraine.

But in additional than 100 pages of paperwork outlining Kishida’s navy build-up, refugees are talked about solely as soon as, in a normal reference to working with the U.N.

Tokyo will hesitate to implement particular humanitarian plans on Yonaguni as a result of it may lead China into believing Japan is making ready for a Taiwan battle, stated a U.S. official with information of Japanese pondering, talking on the situation of anonymity as a result of he was not authorised to remark publicly.

Even if he had a refugee plan, Kishida would nonetheless face an impediment: his contentious relationship with the Okinawa authorities that administers Yonaguni.

The governor, Denny Tamaki, desires fewer U.S. troops based mostly in his prefecture, opposes Kishida’s navy growth and says it’s the prime minister’s job to handle migrants arriving by boat.

“Even if it’s left to local government, the authority and financial resources for this have not yet been clearly defined,” he stated in an interview. Resentment with Tokyo lingers in Okinawa over the deaths of 1 in 4 islanders in World War Two and the substantial navy presence that has been there since.

In March, Okinawa and Tokyo officers carried out their first tabletop drill to simulate the evacuation of round 120,000 residents and vacationers on Japan’s southwestern islands, together with Yonaguni, calculating the operation would take a couple of week.

“There is no guarantee people won’t come from Taiwan and it would overwhelm the system,” stated one of many drill’s advisers, Hironobu Nakabayashi from Kokushikan University’s Research Institute of Disaster Management and Emergency Medical System.


Back in Yonaguni, resident Satoshi Nagahama, 33, was stunned to study the federal government had no humanitarian plan for refugees.

“I don’t think we could handle any. The government would have to take them elsewhere,” he stated on the island’s closest port to Taiwan, the place he was hauling blue marlin from fishing boats and packing them in ice.

Even the neighborhood centre that quickly housed the Vietnamese refugees Sakihara discovered has been closed for a decade, its crumbling concrete partitions draped in inexperienced netting.

Without authorities assist, some residents say it could fall to the island’s two law enforcement officials or city corridor officers together with Koji Sugama, a 65-year-old former soldier, to deal with any refugee disaster.

Since he was employed in April to enhance catastrophe administration, certainly one of Sugama’s duties has been procuring emergency provides for residents, together with bottled water and prepared meals packed into three heavy metal containers dotted across the island.

“This will do for one, maybe two days,” he stated, standing inside certainly one of them. “There isn’t enough to share.”

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