(Yomiuri: February 25, 2016 – p. 2)
The government is stepping up its wariness toward China, as the country’s deployment of fighter jets on the Paracel Islands may accelerate its maritime aggression in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is a key sea lane for Japan to import petroleum and natural gas from the Middle East. “China is transforming its artificial island into a base of military operations,” said
Defense Minister Gen Nakatani on Feb. 24. “The Ministry of Defense has a grave interest in this development and is working hard to collect and analyze information.”
A senior official with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also expressed concern about the escalation of China’s moves.
China has already deployed a surface-to-air missile and radar facilities on the Paracel Islands. A senior Defense Ministry official fears that “China may establish an air defense identification zone of its own accord.” Such view is already widespread within the Japanese government.
China unilaterally announced in November 2013 that it had designated an ADIZ over the East China Sea, which includes the Senkaku Islands. The move sparked tensions in the region.
“We can advocate for ‘freedom of navigation,’ but the reality is that Self-Defense Forces units, civilian ships, and aircraft will become afraid of travelling there,” said a senior officer with the Maritime Self-Defense Force. “There is no doubt that travel by aircraft and vessels will be restricted.”
Japan wants to cooperate with the U.S., South Korea, Australia, India, and other concerned nations to pressure China to exercise self-restraint. But international responses to China’s maritime aggression are not consistent, as there are pro-China countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
“China’s assertiveness highlights the eclipsing military clout of the U.S. in the South China Sea,” said a senior Japanese government official. “The countries involved are lagging behind in their responses.”