Bomb shelters on Japan’s southern islands make sense, experts say, in case China attacks
Stars and Stripes March 10, 2023
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Japan plans to guard against a potential conflict with China by building bomb shelters across the Nansei Islands, a move that security experts say is practical and not necessarily a signal of coming war.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in recent months has doubled down on security policies released in December that call for “securing various types of evacuation facilities” should a hot war with China spill over from Taiwan.
Some citizens may view the move as increasing the risk of war, but building shelters is a necessary measure that could save lives, experts said.
“Building evacuation facilities to protect the lives and property of the people makes sense,” Junjiro Shida, an associate professor of international politics at Okinawa’s Meio University, said by email Monday. “When we think about natural disasters, it is normal to build evacuation facilities and conduct evacuation drills; the same can be said about a hypothetical enemy attack.”
The Japanese government plans new construction and to identify existing concrete structures that could withstand missile attacks, a spokesman for Kishida’s cabinet said by phone Wednesday. No tangible plans have been made and no potential sites have been identified, he said.
Some government officials in Japan are required to speak to the media only on condition of anonymity.
The Nansei chain includes Okinawa and stretches from Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands, to Taiwan.
China has become increasingly assertive in the South and East China seas in recent years. As a result, Japanese lawmakers in December approved a record defense budget of about $51.4 billion for fiscal year 2023 that emphasizes counterstrike capabilities and strengthens standoff air and missile defense.
Also in December, the Ministry of Defense released the National Security Strategy of Japan, which calls for strengthening the “protection mechanisms” for Japanese nationals through evacuation planning and “various types of evacuation facilities.”
“We are investigating what the tasks are and what is the required efficiency for facilities assuming severe attacks, like nuclear attacks,” Kishida told Japan’s House of Representatives on Jan. 26.
Shida said the Chinese Communist Party views a military takeover of Taiwan as “not whether, but when,” which would directly affect the Nansei.
Toshiyuki Shikata, a former lieutenant general in the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, cited civilian casualties in Ukrainian cities as proof positive that shelters are necessary ahead of any potential conflict.
“If a war starts, the first thing the government must do is evacuate the citizens out of the island, but if they don’t have time to do so, it is better to evacuate them into shelters and those kinds of facilities," he said by phone March 3.
Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki has called for diplomacy to build trust and relieve tensions, a spokesman from the prefecture’s Military Base Affairs Division said by phone Thursday.
Kishimoto Takashi, deputy secretary-general of the Okinawa Peace Activity Center, agreed.
“Building these evacuation facilities means that the country is preparing for war,” Takashi said. “We have always said that it is more important to conduct diplomacy than doing those kinds of preparations.”
Okinawa prefecture is holding an evacuation exercise March 17 at the prefectural offices in Naha. The exercise will focus on command and control, not on moving people.