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China's provocative acts are beyond the pale
Publication Date : 19-12-2012
How should Japan deal with a China that has repeatedly engaged in brazen provocations both on the sea and in the air near the Senkaku Islands? This is one of the most serious tasks facing the administration of incoming Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
A propeller-driven airplane belonging to China's State Oceanic Administration on Thursday intruded into Japanese airspace near the Senkaku Islands and flew near the islands for about half an hour. It marks the first time a Chinese aircraft has ever intruded into Japanese airspace.
The Chinese government tried to explain the act away by calling it "a three-dimensional patrol both on the water and in the air." But it was probably an intentionally provocative act conducted amid Japan's election campaign for the House of Representatives.
Thursday marked the 75th anniversary of the Nanjing Incident perpetrated by the Imperial Japanese Army. The air intrusion may also have been intended to respond to anti-Japan sentiments in China.
The government lodged a strong protest with China. Washington, acting in concert with Tokyo, also conveyed its concern. When the gravity of the issue is taken into consideration, these are appropriate responses. The Japanese government, in cooperation with other countries, must call on China to exercise self-restraint.
A higher level of hazard
The potential danger posed by an intrusive act differs greatly between those in the air and on the water.
When a Chinese government vessel intrudes into Japanese waters, the Japan Coast Guard takes action, while the Maritime Self-Defence Force does not come to the fore.
When there is an intrusion into the nation's airspace, however, the Air Self-Defence Force (ASDF) scrambles fighters to patrol and issue warnings.
International law does not allow aircraft to fly into the territorial airspace of a foreign country without permission. A country thus intruded upon can take measures to exclude the intruding airplane to protect its sovereignty.
The ASDF scrambled 156 times against seemingly imminent intrusions by Chinese airplanes into Japanese airspace in fiscal 2011, a record high in the past decade. In the first half of this fiscal year alone, the ASDF scrambled 69 times.
Should any unexpected incident occur between an ASDF aircraft and an intruding Chinese airplane, it could escalate, in a worst-case scenario, into a military conflict between the two countries.
A troubling radar blind spot
In response to Thursday's intrusion into Japanese airspace, the ASDF scrambled fighter jets but failed to arrive at the spot promptly enough and to fully track the intrusion of the Chinese airplane. As there is no radar site near the Senkaku Islands, the ASDF failed to detect the Chinese aircraft, which was believed to have flown low over the waters close to the islands, early enough.
It is a matter of urgency to reinforce the SDF's warning and patrol system against Chinese aircraft. The ASDF needs to fill in this blind spot in its radar network by deploying more E-2C early-warning aircraft and airborne warning and control system [AWACS] planes to the Nansei Islands.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi has released a paper on China's foreign policy, in which he emphasised that China "will fight with Japan resolutely" against the Japanese government's nationalisation of part of the Senkaku Islands.
A Chinese official in charge of diplomatic authorities, who are supposed to function as a window for communication and negotiation with other countries, has taken a hard-line stance. This only hinders a level-headed bilateral dialogue, making it difficult to bring the issue under control.
China must become aware that its self-centred behaviour is certainly damaging its international reputation.