Defense Minister takes pot shots at China

Tensions between two Asian giants intensified this week as Japan’s Defense Minister warned mega-giant China its drones flying over southwestern Okinawa Prefecture would be shot down.

China’s issued a warning to Japan that shooting down its drones would amount to “an act of war.”  The warning that would happen came from Japan’s Defense Minister, Itsunori Onodera, who says “I believe the intrusions by China in the territorial waters around the Senkaku islands fall in the ‘grey zone’ (between) peacetime and an emergency situation.”  Onodera called Beijing’s actions over the disputed Senkaku Islands jeopardizing peace.

His words come on the heels of renewed conflict between Chinese and Japanese forces beginning late last week, when Chinese plans flew near Japanese airspace on three consecutive days.  Following that, the China Coast Guard put four of its ships into waters around the Senkaku Islands, where they were tracked by the Japan Coast Guard.

China claims the five islands, calling them Diaoyus.  Japan also claims sovereignty, as does Taiwan.  China sent a pair of early-warning surveillance aircraft, as well as two bombers, into the region, according to the Defense Minister.  “It was unusual that so many aircraft flew between the Okinawan main island and Miyako island,” he said. “We consider that it is also very unusual that it occurred for three days in a row. Onodera’s comments come only days after reports that Prime Minister Shizo Abe had given the green light for Japanese Coast Guard and Maritime Self Defense Forces to fire on any unmanned aircraft that did not heed warnings to pull away from Japanese territory.

According to officials, the drones had been tracked on routes coming from, and returning to, Chinese airspace.  Other officials say there is no doubt in their minds about where the drones came from, pointing out that China has been beefing up its drone fleet.  Reacting, China’s Defense Ministry disputed Japanese claims, saying that any aggressive action against its aircraft “would constitute a serious provocation, an act of war of sorts”.  China promised to take countermeasures if Japan presses the issue.

Meanwhile, Japan is planning a massive military drill on an island far away from the Senkakus, starting tomorrow.  The Defense Ministry says the drill’s intent is to tweak the skills of the 34,000 Japanese troops tasked with protecting, defending and retaking any distant territory from an enemy.

Japan, which declared sovereignty over a year ago after purchasing several of the islands it didn’t already control, insists the islands have belonged to it since 1895.  Japan has noted China had no interest in the region until the discovery in the late 1960’s of minerals and fossil fuel reserves near the islands.  China says it has been the legal heir to the islands for centuries, calling Tokyo’s actions following World War II a land-grab.

Last weekend Abe told Japanese troops the “security environment surrounding Japan is becoming increasingly severe”. You will have to completely rid yourselves of the conventional notion that just the existence of a defense force could act as a deterrent.”