Japan Holds Evacuation Simulation for Small Southern Islands with Eye on Possible Taiwan Contingency

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Sakishima Islands municipal government officials take part in a simulation drill at the Okinawa prefectural government head office on Friday.

NAHA — The central and Okinawa prefectural governments on Friday conducted a simulation drill for the evacuation of residents from the Sakishima Islands.

The exercise — the first of its kind — was conducted at the prefectural government’s head office.

As concerns rise over a possible military emergency involving Taiwan, the exercise aimed to determine the optimal way to evacuate about 120,000 people from the islands to Kyushu prefectures and how to secure the necessary transportation under the Civil Protection Law.

The Sakishima Islands sit close to Taiwan and comprise five municipalities — Miyakojima, Ishigaki, Taketomi, Yonaguni and Tarama — all of which belong to Okinawa Prefecture.

The exercise was conducted on the premise of a rapidly deteriorating security environment around Japan and a serious risk of armed attacks. The drill also assumed that the central government had instructed the evacuation of about 120,000 residents and tourists to Kyushu and had advised people on Okinawa Island to stay indoors.

About 40 officials from the Cabinet Secretariat, Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces, and disaster-prevention divisions of the five municipal governments gathered at the prefectural office, while members of the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry and other authorities participated online.

Following the issuance of a mock instruction to prepare for evacuation, officials of the prefectural government held discussions with private airline companies and others concerned parties and proposed evacuation routes for planes and shipping.

The evacuation plan envisaged the evacuation of about 120,000 people. The Okinawa prefectural government estimated it could transport a maximum of 22,000 per day, meaning it would take around six days for full evacuation — under normal weather conditions.

An official of Japan Transocean Air Co., a Naha-based airline which participated in the exercise, said: “If even a single flight was to be delayed, it would have a large impact on subsequent flights. Getting people to airports is another matter for consideration.”

Measures to help people with special needs evacuate and securing accommodation for evacuees were not addressed during the exercise and remain points to be addressed in the future.

Ishigaki Mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama, meanwhile, urged that shelters be built as soon as possible. “Though the fundamental measure is to evacuate the islands, we also need shelters capable of accommodating around 2,000 people, including senior city government officials and workers to protect local infrastructure.” Nakayama said.

During the Battle of Okinawa in the final days of the Pacific War, only a limited number of residents were able to leave the prefecture, and many lost their lives.