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China’s Naval Maneuvering Arouses Japanese Concern [ 2010.05.14 ]

[NewsJapan.net] There is growing concern in Japan regarding recent moves by the Chinese navy in the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean near Okinawa. The Japanese government has protested to the government of China, since the repetition of such acts by the Chinese navy might jeopardize the safe navigation of Japanese naval shipping in the area.

On April 13 Japanese Minister of Defense Toshimi Kitazawa officially announced that a 10-vessel fleet, including two submarines, of the Chinese navy had passed through international waters between Okinawa’s main island and Miyako Island, from the direction of the East China Sea into the Pacific Ocean, on April 10. According to The Nikkei on April 14, it was highly unusual for a defense minister to make this kind of announcement himself. Defense Minister Kitazawa expressed his intention to carefully watch developments, since such incidents had never occurred before. A high-ranking Ministry of Defense official also revealed that on April 8 a ship-based helicopter from the Chinese fleet had approached a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force escort ship at a perilously close range of 90 meters and a low altitude of 30 meters.

After completing open-sea drills, the same Chinese fleet, ion its return, again sailed between Okinawa and Miyako on April 22, and the day before, April 21, a ship-based Chinese helicopter had made another approach to a Japanese escort ship. It was that incident that led the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to lodge a protest with the Chinese government on the same day.

China insists that the Chinese navy’s carrier-borne helicopter drew abnormally close to the escort ship as a necessary defensive measure against Japan’s monitoring behavior. In a press conference on April 23, however, Minister for Foreign Affairs Katsuya Okadasaid, “The monitoring was neither dangerous nor illegal. The argument of the Chinese side is not necessarily convincing.” In a press conference on the same day, Defense Minister Kitazawa also expressed his concern about an escalation of tension between Japan and China in the future, saying, “We should both deal with this matter carefully so that no incidents occur by accident.” (Yomiuri Shimbun, April 24).

Japanese analysts say that the Chinese navy’s moves reflect China’s policy of strengthening its naval power and presence further to the east in the Pacific Ocean with the aim of eventually rivaling the US navy and enhancing its capability to protect sea lanes for the transport of key materials to China. It is also speculated that China may be testing the reaction of the Japanese government led by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama by deliberately making provocative acts.

Major Newspaper Editorials

Japan’s major newspaper editorials in chorus expressed their concern over the Chinese navy’s behavior. At the same time, they were critical of the Japanese government’s handling of the matter.

In its April 24 editorial titled “Chinese Navy choppers’ dangerous actions,” the Yomiuri asserted, “The Japanese government's response was too slow. The Foreign Ministry asked the Chinese side to confirm and explain the first incident on April 12. And it was not until the same day that the Foreign Ministry reported the incident to Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada. The ministry lodged the protest on Wednesday [April 21].” It went on, “From now on the government must pay utmost attention to increased actions by the Chinese Navy to secure Chinese interests in the sea. The government must study what actions it should take from medium- and long-term points of view and see to it that the results of such studies are reflected in this year’s revision of the current National Defense Program Guidelines.”

In its April 24 editorial headlined “China’s aggressive navy,” the Asahi Shimbun argued, “There is good reason to believe that the Chinese navy fully anticipated the series of events and that the drills were partly designed to test Japan’s reaction. If so, China’s disregard for Japan’s request for information is all the more unacceptable. The situation is testing Japan’s diplomatic ability to deal with an increasingly assertive China.” The Asahi concluded, “The Japanese government, for its part, should put more pressure on China to take steps to strengthen mutual trust through diplomatic efforts anchored by its security alliance with the United States.”

The Sankei Shimbun, in its April 23 editorial titled “Dangerous provocation must be denounced,” strongly criticized the Japanese government. It commented, “Prime Minister Hatoyama did not touch on this issue in his summit meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Washington on April 12, even though it offered an excellent chance to protest and warn China.” “In recent years,” the Sankei went on, “the Chinese navy has been intensifying its activities in waters that include Okinawa and the Senkaku Islands. As shown by Chinese nuclear submarines’ underwater navigation in Japanese territorial waters, their abnormally close approach to US aircraft carriers, and the Chinese destroyer fleet’s passage through the Tsugaru Strait, threats to Japan’s maritime interests will only increase if Japan and the United States fail to keep up vigilance and surveillance.”

Under the headline “Chinese military testing Japan’s security consciousness,” The Nikkei editorial (April 23) remarked, “The Chinese fleet’s navigation and drills on the high seas do not infringe upon international law, but the latest incidents had the possibility of inadvertently causing an unexpected collision. Japan needs to ask China to offer a clear-cut explanation in order to prevent a repetition of such acts.. In his meeting with the Chinese president, Prime Minister Hatoyama should have told Beijing to refrain from dangerous actions.” It added, “Overreaction must be avoided, but it is necessary for Japan to work with the United States and other parties concerned to step up measures to cope with China’s military expansion. That is the best way to prevent unnecessary conflicts.”

(Copyright 2010 Foreign Press Center, Japan)

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