Japan on Thursday deployed Ground Self-Defense Force units including missile squads to a remote southern island near the disputed Senkaku Islands and Taiwan, apparently in response to China's intensifying military activities in nearby waters.

Some 570 or fewer GSDF members will be stationed at a newly established garrison on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture, with some assigned to land-to-ship and land-to-air missile units, according to the Defense Ministry.

The island is located less than 200 kilometers south of the Senkaku island group in the East China Sea, controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing. Chinese coast guard vessels have repeatedly entered Japanese waters around the uninhabited islets.

The Ground Self-Defense Force's garrison on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture is pictured on March 15, 2023. (Kyodo)

It is also situated some 300 km east of Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island seen by the Chinese government as a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Japan has been enhancing deterrence and response capabilities against China by building defense footholds on the Nanseis Islands, a chain that stretches southwest from Kyushu toward Taiwan.

The GSDF set up garrisons on Yonaguni Island in Okinawa in 2016, and on the prefecture's Miyako Island and Amami Island in Kagoshima prefecture in 2019 with missile units.

Japan pledged to strengthen its defense capabilities and improve infrastructure in the southwestern region when the government updated its defense policies, including long-term guidelines of the National Security Strategy, in December last year.

A protester stands in front of the gate of a Ground Self-Defense Force garrison on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture on March 16, 2023. (Kyodo)

The GSDF deployment plan on Ishigaki Island has faced opposition from some local residents since it emerged around 2014, but the mayor said in 2016 that the city of Ishigaki would accept it.

A rally was held near the front gate of the garrison on Thursday, with around 30 people including local residents calling for the removal of "the missile base" from Ishigaki Island.

"Here in Ishigaki, we had never seen an SDF member in a camouflage uniform," said Sachiko Fujii, 75, a local civic group member who joined the protest. "We will never give up until the base is removed."

In the final phase of World War II in 1945, Okinawa became the site of the conflict's bloodiest ground battle on Japanese soil with more than 200,000 civilians and soldiers from the Japanese and American militaries killed.