Militarizing Japan’s Southwest Islands : Subnational Involvement and Insecurities in the Maritime Frontier Zone

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-153
Journal / PublicationAsian Security
Issue number2
Online published18 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


This paper sheds light on a relatively underexplored aspect of Japan’s recent security changes by examining the subnational level where the impact has been far-reaching. It focuses on Japan’s maritime frontier zone: the Yaeyama Islands located at the southwestern end of the Japanese archipelago and administered as part of Okinawa Prefecture. It argues that while Yaeyama militarization has been primarily a national response to China’s portrayed assertiveness in the East China Sea, it has also been facilitated by the strategic actions of local political elites, in cooperation with sympathetic extra-local forces. Political elites from two islands, Yonaguni and Ishigaki, have been motivated primarily by diverging material and ideational factors. Yonaguni elites have viewed militarization largely through the prism of “compensation politics.” Their counterparts in Ishigaki have been driven by more ideological objectives, seeking militarization for deterrence purposes and otherwise transforming the island into a rightist breeding ground in defence of Japanese territory. Yaeyama militarization has not only diminished enthusiasm for seeking autonomy and enhancing economic security through microregional cooperation, but has also enhanced local-level insecurities while creating and exacerbating divisions.