Photo/IllutrationThe Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea are administered by Japan as part of Okinawa Prefecture but also claimed by Beijing. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The National Police Agency in fiscal 2020 will deploy its first special unit dedicated to patrolling outlying islands near Japan’s southern borders, including the Senkaku Islands claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing.

The task force will be established within the Okinawa prefectural police and is expected to consist of dozens of highly trained members armed with automatic weapons and other defense equipment.

Their primary duty will be to respond to illegal landings by armed individuals on Japan’s far-flung islands.

A large transport helicopter will be deployed for the task force members based in Okinawa Prefecture. The NPA will also deploy a large helicopter for the Fukuoka prefectural police to help them deal with possible landings of refugees on remote islands in the Kyushu region and elsewhere.

For fiscal 2020, the agency plans to request a budget to add a total of 159 officers to the Okinawa and Fukuoka prefectural police departments. But most of the added officers are expected to be members of the task force in Okinawa.

The Senkaku Islands, which are located in the East China Sea south of Okinawa’s main island, are administered by Japan as part of Okinawa Prefecture.

However, China also claims sovereignty over the uninhabited isles.

In 2012, seven Chinese activists landed on Uotsurishima, one of the Senkaku Islands. They were arrested by Okinawa prefectural police.

A similar incident occurred in 2004.

Japanese police and the Japan Coast Guard are primarily responsible for dealing with illegal landings on the Senkaku Islands. Police officers use Coast Guard vessels to patrol waters around the isles.

To respond to another illegal landing, members of the new task force will be transported to the Senkaku Islands from the Okinawan main island via helicopter or Coast Guard vessel.

Okinawa prefectural police and the NPA will work together on how to maneuver the unit during such a scenario.

In fiscal 2019, the agency hired two former Ground Self-Defense Force members who can operate large transport helicopters.

The hiring was made to prepare for the establishment of the new task force. It usually takes years to train personnel to fly these transport helicopters.

One of the former GDSF members will be assigned to the Okinawa prefectural police while the other will join the Fukuoka prefectural police next fiscal year.

(This article was written by Shimpachi Yoshida, senior staff writer, and Shinichi Fujiwara.)