Island paradise on frontline of Japanese security

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In the minds of many Japanese people, Yonaguni is a sleepy paradise of crystal-clear sea and pristine beaches, where miniature horses graze on clifftops and empty roads dissect fields of sugar cane; where tourists dive with hammerhead sharks and marvel at the Ayamihabiru – the world’s largest Atlas moth.

But this tiny island, located far closer to Taipei than Tokyo, now finds itself at the centre of regional tensions triggered by a new round of Chinese aggression towards Taiwan.

On a clear day, it is possible to make out the coastline of Taiwan, located 110km (68 miles) from the westernmost tip of Yonaguni. And the prospect of a conflict across the narrow stretch of water looms large. There are plans to expand a Japanese self-defence (SDF) base on Yonaguni, and to extend the airport and port. In April, the government announced it would build underground evacuation shelters here and on other “frontline” islands.

This creeping militarisation has placed the island’s civilian population of 1,500 on the frontline of new and growing threats to Japan’s security and left many residents fearful for their safety – and their future.

With a cautious eye on tensions across the water, residents talk of their unease over a Taiwan yūji (Taiwan emergency) – a scenario in which China attempts to annex Taiwan by force, sparking a wider conflict that ensnares both the US and its key ally, Japan, and leads to an exodus of refugees to Yonaguni.

“Of course I’m worried about something happening with Taiwan,” says Shoko Komine, who runs a restaurant serving local delicacies such as marlin sashimi and goya champurū. “If something happens between China and Taiwan, I think there’s a chance Yonaguni will get dragged into it.


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Chuck comes from a lineage of journalism. He has written for some of the webs most popular news sites. He enjoys spending time outdoors, bull riding, and collecting old vinyl records. Roll Tide!