Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denounced China’s use of weapons-targeting radar on one of Japan’s naval vessels as provocative, saying the move will undermine efforts to ease tensions over a territorial dispute.
“This was a dangerous action that could lead to unforeseen circumstances,” Abe said today in parliament in Tokyo. “At a time when there were signs that there could be talks between China and Japan, it is extremely regrettable that China should carry out such a one-sided provocation.”
A Chinese ship used fire-control radar on a Japanese destroyer on Jan. 30, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters yesterday in Tokyo. He declined to specify the location, which broadcaster NHK earlier reported was near islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by both nations.
The episode impairs recent efforts to ease strains that have damaged trade ties between Asia’s two biggest economies and brought calls from the U.S. for a diplomatic resolution. Japan yesterday issued a separate protest after Chinese ships entered its waters Feb. 4.
Japan “immediately protested to China through diplomatic channels, calling strongly for the prevention of any further such incidents,” Abe said of the radar targeting.
China’s Foreign Ministry is “not aware of this matter,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing, adding that her only knowledge of the incident came from press reports. She repeated Chinese claims of sovereignty over the islands, called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan and the surrounding waters.
Japanese shares rose, with the Nikkei 225 Stock Average closing at its highest level since September 2008, and the yen fell after Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said he would step down next month.
The U.S. is “concerned” about the latest incident, which may escalate tensions and raises risks of an “incident or miscalculation,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press conference in Washington yesterday.
Illuminating a ship with fire-control radar is a “risky” move because it could invite retaliation, said James Hardy, a London-based Asia-Pacific editor at IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly. “It might be one of these situations where an individual captain on a ship said he was going to make a name for himself or act beyond his remit,” he said, speaking from Bangalore.
Onodera called the Chinese move “extremely unusual,” adding that a Japanese helicopter had been similarly targeted last month. Until now, most contact between Japanese and Chinese vessels has been between Coast Guard ships or other non-military vessels that were either unarmed or lightly armed.
Abe took office as prime minister in December advocating a stronger stance asserting Japan’s claims on the uninhabited islands. The administration plans to increase Japan’s defense budget for the first time in 11 years and boost Coast Guard spending to cope with mounting incursions by Chinese ships in waters near the islands.
Tensions showed signs of easing last month after Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping met with the head of Abe’s junior coalition partner in Beijing. New Komeito Party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi handed over a personal letter from Abe and told reporters Xi said he would consider a summit.
People’s Liberation Army General Liu Yuan, the son of China’s former president Liu Shaoqi, said in an editorial in the Global Times newspaper on Feb. 4 that the building of the Chinese economy had reached a critical time, and shouldn’t be interrupted by accidental events.
“America and Japan fear us catching up, they will do everything possible to contain China’s development, and we must be sure to not to be taken in,” he wrote.
Using fire-control radar to illuminate another vessel can be an indicator of hostile intent, depending on the circumstances, according to a manual of rules of engagement written under the direction of the U.S. Naval War College.
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