Japan eyes portable harbours to defend islands in East China Sea

Most Japanese islands in the East China Sea lack the ports needed to land troops, equipment and supplies. Here, the Ikema Bridge links the islands of Miyako and Ikema in the Sakishima archipelago (Metatron/CC BY-SA 3.0)
Japan is to develop portable harbours that would make it easier to defend its southern islands in the event of armed conflict with China, Nikkei Asia reports.

The project, which has not been given a cost, was included in the Ministry of Defence’s 2023 budget. The first phase is to research ways of making prefabricated harbour modules that can be transported and assembled as quickly and easily as possible. This is expected to begin after April next year.

The harbour may consist of a breakwater and a pier to the shore. Researchers will have to find a material that is light enough to float but strong enough to resist storms and bear the weight of armoured vehicles.

The harbours are needed because most Japanese islands in the East China Sea lack the ports needed to land troops, equipment and supplies if Japan’s self-defence force ever had to defend them.

According to the Nikkei, Japanese transport ships are 178m long and have a draft of 6m.  The Sakishima Islands, the part of the Nansei group closest to Taiwan, have just two ports able to accommodate such large vessels.

Particular tension has arisen over the Senkakus – five uninhabited islets and three barren rocks – located about 170km northeast of Taiwan. Diplomatic and legal arguments have been going on over their ownership since the end of the Second World War, and there are regular stand-offs between Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese naval forces and fishing boats, as well as test missiles and drone incursions from China.

The largest confrontation to date occurred in September 2012, when Taiwanese fishing vessels were escorted by ten Taiwanese Coast Guard vessels to the area, leading to clashes with the Japanese Coast Guard.

In addition to military applications, the portable harbours also are expected to be used for disaster management, such as transporting fire engines.

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