Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signaled he will implement a more robust foreign policy in the midst of disputes with Russia and China that underscore his push to boost defense spending.
Japan yesterday said two Russian fighter jets intruded on its airspace, which Russia’s Defense Ministry denied. The alleged incursion followed accusations that Chinese ships used weapons-targeting radar on a Japanese destroyer and helicopter last month near islands claimed by both countries. China today issued a denial and accused Japan of spreading falsehoods, while the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo summoned the Chinese ambassador.
“When our sovereignty and national interests are threatened we must change our foreign policy to firmly express our point of view,” Abe told parliament today.
An escalating of tensions with Russia may distract Abe as he copes with a dispute with China that has prolonged Japan’s recession and brought U.S. calls for a diplomatic solution. The government is proposing the first increase in Japan’s defense budget in 11 years to cope with mounting incursions by Chinese ships and planes into Japanese-administered waters.
Abe this week denounced China’s use of fire-control radar on Japanese naval targets last month, calling it a “one-sided provocation.” Yesterday he said the dispute highlighted the need to keep lines of communications open, adding that summits are good forums for addressing friction.
“We’ve been too silent in some ways,” said Kunihiko Miyake, a professor of international relations at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. Abe’s reaction shows “that by disclosing the information, he wanted to send a strong warning together with the rest of the international community that such provocation cannot be tolerated,” he said.
Two Russian Su-27s flew over Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido yesterday for more than a minute, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on its website that while jets were in the area as part of an exercise, they didn’t violate Japanese airspace.
Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera called the incident “extremely regrettable,” and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government had protested to Russia and called on its government to acknowledge the incursion.
China today said its ships didn’t use fire-control radar on Japan naval forces in the East China Sea last month, and called Japanese statements on the issue “irresponsible.” Radar was used simply to monitor a helicopter on Jan. 19 and to track the Japanese destroyer Yudachi on Jan. 30, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement posted on its website.
“Japan again deliberately spread false information to smear China’s image and play up the China threat,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing. “This has created tension and misled international opinion. We cannot help but ask what is Japan’s true intention.”
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga rejected China’s explanation as “unacceptable,” and called on the Chinese government to accept responsibility for the incident.
The Foreign Ministry later said in a statement that it had summoned Cheng Yonghua, China’s ambassador, to protest the Chinese response issued through the defense ministry website.
“Japan’s ships have data about the frequency of each country’s fire-control radar programmed into their electronic warfare systems,” said Chiaki Akimoto, director of the Tokyo office of the Royal United Services Institute on defense and security studies. “That particular frequency will automatically trigger the alarm. So there is zero possibility that it could be confused with some other kind of radar.”
The incident has undermined efforts to ease tensions between Asia’s two biggest economies over the territorial dispute. The uninhabited islands, called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, lie in an area rich in fish, oil and natural gas. Japan’s purchase of three of the islands in September prompted violent protests in China that damaged Japanese businesses.