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Yoshiko Sakurai

【#955】Make Plans to Evacuate Okinawa’s Tiny Island Residents

Yoshiko Sakurai / 2022.08.23 (Tue)

August 22, 2022

In retaliation against U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army began fierce military drills in six areas surrounding Taiwan on August 4, firing five missiles into Japan’s exclusive economic zone in Okinawa. The missiles landed in waters only 60 kilometers away from the westernmost Japanese island of Yonaguni.

Military experts view the PLA conducted the drills with its invasion of Taiwan in mind. The late former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s warning that a Taiwan contingency would amount to a Japan contingency has grown realistic.

Prefectural, national governments lack a sense of crisis

When reshuffling his cabinet on August 10, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida boasted his new cabinet as a policy-exercising cabinet in response to emergency. But emergency response measures in Okinawa are extremely dubious. Kenichi Itokazu, mayor of Yonaguni Town with some 1,600 residents, asserted:

“While the national government assumes various situations under the Civil Protection Act, it is entitled to instruct residents to evacuate only when an armed attack is acknowledged or a military invasion is starting. It would be too late. Our tiny island of Yonaguni does not have even an underground shelter. It is most important to evacuate residents, but the town alone is unable to carry out the evacuation.”

When Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki visited Yonaguni on August 19 ahead of the incoming Okinawa gubernatorial election, Itokazu told Tamaki: “A Taiwan contingency would amount to a Japan contingency or an Okinawa contingency. The prefectural government has made no response to our question about how to evacuate residents out of the island to avoid a risk.”

Tamaki responded: “Regarding this issue, it is important to call on all Okinawans in the world to be friendly with any country.”

“Okinawa Prefecture has established a sister-city relationship with Fujian Province.” He added.

Tamaki is ridiculous. He doesn’t understand or mind Chinese threats. As Itokazu desperately made the case to the national government, he was told to talk to the prefectural government first. Itokazu complains that the prefectural or national government has not felt that Yonaguni Island faces a real crisis.

Kishida should demonstrate his seriousness

Itokazu always considers his responsibility of protecting local residents’ safety. If residents were to be transferred to neighboring Shimoji Island with a long runway available for large aircraft, a 50-seat aircraft for regular flights to and from Yonaguni would have to make more than 30 flights. Any sites for protecting residents after such difficult transfer remain undecided.

“As far as how to evacuate local residents in an emergency situation is left unknown, I have no choice but to tell them to tentatively move to their relatives’ homes as early as possible when danger comes near. This may be done if each resident is given 1 million yen (about $7,400). A total of 1.6 billion yen (about $12m) may be required for 1,600 residents. I am considering preparing a fund to this end.”

Yonaguni Island, located 111 kilometers from Taiwan, may become the most dangerous Japanese island in the event of a Taiwan contingency. After declaring emergency responses and a policy-exercising cabinet, Kishida should demonstrate his seriousness about responding to an emergency.

Yoshiko Sakurai is President, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.