Japan preparing to deploy troops near disputed East China Sea islands

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TOKYO — Japan's deputy defense minister met with the mayor of a southern island Thursday to seek his support for the planned deployment of hundreds of troops in the region including nearby disputed East China Sea islands.

Vice Minister of Defense Kenji Wakamiya met in Ishigaki with Mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama to explain a plan to deploy about 500 ground troops on the island beginning in 2019, ministry officials said. The troops would be for emergency response in case of infiltration on nearby islands or for missile defense.

Ishigaki has jurisdiction over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which China also claims and calls the Diaoyu islands.

Japan has stepped up its defense readiness, especially on islands in the country's southwestern region, amid China's military buildup and its frequent patrols near the disputed islands. China and North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons ambitions top Japan's security concerns.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's hawkish government enacted new security laws in September despite widespread criticism that they violate Japan's war-renouncing constitution.

Japan is already constructing a base on the nearby island of Yonaguni to deploy 150 coastal monitoring troops, and plans to deploy hundreds more each on Miyako and Amamioshima islands by 2018.

Japanese coast guard statistics show that Chinese government vessels have entered Japanese-claimed territorial waters surrounding the disputed islands between four and 28 times a month, and approached those waters nearly every day since Japan nationalized some of the disputed islands in September 2012.

Relations between the nations, which have the world's second- and third-largest economies, are also strained over their World War II history, development of undersea gas deposits in areas near the disputed islands, and other issues.

Japan and China are to hold maritime security talks in Xiamen next month to discuss some of the outstanding issues and ways to avoid security mishaps, according to Japanese media reports.

Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at twitter.com/mariyamaguchi . Her work can be also found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/mari-yamaguchi

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