Japan has been trying to fend off Chinese claims to the Senkaku Islands for years. The Senkaku Islands are a small group of uninhabited islets, and are located to the west of Japan’s Ryukyu Islands, the southernmost inhabited area in Japan. The Senkakus are actually fairly close to the coast of Taiwan, closer than they are to the Japanese main islands.
China has always been aggressively nationalistic, but under the administration of Xi Jinping they have become much more aggressive than ever before, throwing their weight around and constantly threatening their smaller neighbors in the Pacific Ocean and southeast Asia. Xi does this in part to keep the Chinese population distracted from economic problems at home, which are legion.
In particular, Xi Jinping loves to harass China’s old wartime enemy Japan, which is rabidly hated by most Chinese. He has done this by laying claim to the Senkaku Islands, and frequently sends ships into Japanese territorial waters to try to spook Japan and make himself look tough.
It is possible that one day, China may simply decide to seize the islands by force and begin constructing bases there, much like they did in Fiery Cross Reef.
Chinese and North Korean aggression has been what has prompted Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe to rebuild the country’s military capabilities, and there is no question they are building with an eye toward defending isolated Japanese islands like the Senkaku Islands from a Chinese attack:
Japan on Saturday activated its first marine unit since World War Two trained to counter invaders occupying Japanese islands along the edge of the East China Sea that Tokyo fears are vulnerable to attack by China.
In a ceremony held at a military base near Sasebo on the southwest island of Kyushu, about 1,500 members of the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB) wearing camouflage lined up outside amid cold, windy weather.
“Given the increasingly difficult defense and security situation surrounding Japan, defense of our islands has become a critical mandate,” Tomohiro Yamamoto, vice defense minister, said in a speech.
The troops conducted a 20-minute mock public exercise recapturing a remote island from invaders.
“They’ve already demonstrated the ability to put together an ad hoc MEU. But to have a solid, standing MEU capability requires concerted effort,” Grant Newsham, a research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies.
“If Japan put its mind to it, within a year or year and a half it could have a reasonable capability.”
Of course, with Japan (as it is with all Westernized countries), there is the question whether they would actually have the nerve to try to retake the Senkaku Islands if China landed troops and started building a military base there like they have in Fiery Cross Reef. It’s one thing to make bold claims and another thing to execute those claims.
There is also the political problem of Shinzo Abe being in political trouble from a corruption scandal. It’s not clear at all whether the new units would survive under a more leftist government which would replace Abe should he fall. As the Reuters article linked above notes, many Japanese are unhappy with Abe’s attempts to change their post-war policy of total pacifism.