Ex-U.S. Japan desk diplomat reported that Yonaguni Island could become a hub for mine countermeasure operations

September 15, 2011 Ryukyu Shimpo

According to U.S. official telegrams disclosed by WikiLeaks, following the visit of two mine-countermeasure vessels of the U.S. Navy in Japan to Sonai Port, a civilian port on Yonaguni Island on June 2007, Kevin Maher, the former director of the State Department’s Office of Japan Affairs and former consul general in Okinawa Prefecture, communicated to the U.S. government that “Yonaguni Island, as the Japanese territory forward located closest to Taiwan, foreseeably could become a hub for mine countermeasures operations in the event of a contingency in the Taiwan Straits.”

Although the U.S. Navy had publically defined the purpose of the port call as being to promote friendly relations and to give the crew an opportunity to rest, this official telegram reveals that they collected information on whether or not they could use a civilian port on Yonaguni Island as a hub for mine countermeasures operations in the event of an emergency situation in the Taiwan Straits.

The official telegram about the visit by two U.S Navy mine-countermeasure vessels to Sonai Port, located in the northern part of Yonaguni Island, from June 24 to 26 in 2007, was sent to the U.S. government on June 27, 2007.

The Okinawa Prefecture Government Port Authority urged the United States to show self-restraint before the visit and the mayor of Yonaguni Town even expressed his opposition to the visit.

In his official telegram, Maher wrote, “This port call to Japan’s westernmost point, located only seventy miles from Taiwan, was operationally significant.” With regard to Sonai Port, Maher highly evaluated its operational functionality, saying, “We determined that Sonai Port is deep enough for safe access by USN mine countermeasures ships, and that in all likelihood four mine countermeasures ships could fit into the port at one time.”

Referring to the fact that Sonai Port is located near Yonaguni Airport, Maher wrote, “Yonaguni Island also has a commercial airfield less than two miles from Sonai Port, with a 2,000 meter runway and a small tarmac. If helicopters used this airfield in support of mine countermeasures ships, Yonaguni Island, as the Japanese territory forward located closest to Taiwan, foreseeably could become a hub for mine countermeasures operations in the event of a contingency in the Taiwan Straits.”

Maher also mentioned that citizens who protested against the visit proceeded directly to the side of the vessels, preventing the crewmembers from landing at the port. He described access control to the dock area by the Okinawa Prefectural Government (OPG) and Okinawa Prefectural Police (OPP) as being “poor.”

Maher stated, “It is not entirely clear to us whether this poor access control was the result of the Port Authority personnel’s inexperience, incompetence, or a decision made by the OPG not to cooperate. (Prior to the port call, the OPG had asked that the U.S. show “self restraint” and cancel it.) It was probably a combination of all three.” Maher continued, “We advised the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) representatives on site, and the OPP and OPG Port Authority, that access control and force protection must be improved in the future, stressing that this is a safety issue both for our ships and for the local people and the demonstrators themselves.”

Maher wrote, “The [Yonaguni City] Assembly members who voted in support attended a welcome dinner hosted by a local resident for the ships’ officers, and stressed repeatedly to us that the protestors were ‘outsiders’ and that USN (United States Navy) ships are welcome in Yonaguni,” “Two of the Yonaguni City Assembly members who supported the visit told the Consul General that they hope such ship visits will become routine. When asked what frequency would be desirable, they responded that at least once a year would be good.”

(English Translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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