Japan versus Japan, what are the Self-Defense Forces for?

Since June 2016 Chinese fishing boats, coast guard and military vessels have been intruding into the contiguous zone and repeatedly violated the territorial waters of Japan; in addition, the Chinese military has also violated Japanese airspace.[1]

Facing such a dangerous situation what the Japanese government has done so far is merely protest to the Chinese government and its ambassador in Japan about these transgressions.

A retired general of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) reported a serious incident on a Japanese website at the end of June 2016. According to this report, a JASDF fighter jet faced a Chinese one flying an attack maneuver within the air defense identification zone (ADIZ) of Japan and escaped from the air field by using infrared countermeasures to avoid being involved in a dog fight.

The Japanese government first denied the incident and criticized the retired general and is still seeking for JASDF members who leaked the information to the retired general. However, meanwhile the Japan Defense Ministry officers conceded and China also acknowledged the fact.[2] [3] The Chinese version differs from the former Japanese commander’s, though: the JASDF fighter jet started the provocative actions, not the Chinese.

China has challenged international rules such as territorial issues in the South China Sea. Military facilities and living quarters have already been built on the artificial islands reclaimed by China. Despite the judgement of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) these Chinese artificial islands could remain under Chinese control. There cannot be much doubt that China enhances its effective control in this area and also extends its power in the East China Sea. As a consequence, Chinese fisher boats, coast guard and also military vessels have repeatedly violated the territorial waters of Japan close to the Senkaku Islands and Kyushu.

The retired general pointed to the remarkable difference between the Cold War and the current situation. The JASDF fighter jets deployed against territorial violations perpetrated by the Soviet Union’s aircraft were against bombers, and the Kuril Islands have been under the effective control of the Russians, while Chinese aircraft are fighter jets with intentions of capturing the Senkaku Islands now being under the quasi control of Japan. If the Japanese politicians think and believe that scramble actions by the JASDF are enough to protect the Japanese territory from Chinese fighter jets as like in the Cold War times against the Soviet Union’s aircraft, it could prove a fatal mistake.

Although the Japan Defense Ministry announced the defense budget plan for the coming year that shows the record high of late (2.3% more than in 2016)[4], the most essential matter for defense politics is lacking: determined will to defend. Conceding anything to avoid trouble does not help to defend territories nor avoid contingencies. The meaning of civilian control needs to be reconsidered. Military servicemen are not toys of politicians.


[1] The Japan Times: Top official denies claim that Chinese fighter was close to firing on ASDF jet, June 29, 2016. [accessed July 2, 2016] http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/06/29/national/top-official-denies-claim-that-chinese-fighter-was-close-to-firing-on-asdf-jet/#.V7w57o9OKhc

[2] The Mainichi: China fighter moved as if to attack Japan ASDF plane: ex-commander, June 29, 2016. [accessed July 2, 2016] http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20160629/p2g/00m/0dm/022000c

[3] The Japan Times: Tokyo denies Beijing’s claim that Japanese jets locked targeting radar on fighters over East China Sea, July 5, 2016. [accessed July 6, 2016] http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/07/05/national/beijing-accuses-asdf-jets-radar-lock-targeting-fighters-east-china-sea/#.V7xCxI9OKhc

[4] Jiji Press: Japan Defense Ministry to Seek Record Budget of 5.1 T. Yen, August 19, 2016. [accessed August 22, 2016] http://jen.jiji.com/jc/eng?g=eco&k=2016081900415

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