Tokyo, April 28 (Jiji Press)–Japan is facing a risk of being involved in an accidental conflict amid the rising tension between the United States and China, especially as Tokyo and Washington are deepening their cooperation.
In their April 16 summit, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Joe Biden shared concerns over China’s attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China seas.
The Defense Ministry is working to deepen its cooperation with U.S. forces stationed in Japan through surveillance activities and joint exercises.
The moves, however, carry a risk of accidental confrontation among Japanese, U.S. and Chinese ships and planes when they come close in tense airspace and water areas.
Japan and the United States have held practical joint exercises frequently since around a “two-plus-two” meeting of their foreign and defense ministers in March.
According to ministry officials, a drill in late March that involved the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force Aegis destroyer Kongo and the U.S. Navy 7th Fleet command ship USS Blue Ridge was designed to improve the deterrent power of the Japan-U.S. alliance and interoperability.
The Blue Ridge can serve as the 7th Fleet command center. Military information in the western Pacific is concentrated on the vessel.
Meanwhile, the Kongo has advanced air defense capabilities. It could be used to protect the Blue Ridge in a contingency situation in the Taiwan Strait or around the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, claimed by China, under Japan’s national security laws implemented in 2016.
The ministry is also boosting efforts to publicize joint exercises with the United States to highlight progress in the cooperation between the SDF and the U.S. military.
But an increase in integrated activities between the two could raise the risk of Japan involved in an unintended confrontation between Washington and Beijing.
Some Japanese government officials grew concerned when the U.S. Navy early this month released online a picture of the 7th Fleet’s Aegis destroyer USS Mustin monitoring the Chinese military’s aircraft carrier Liaoning.
“It may provoke the target (China),” an official said of the picture, in which the captain of the Mustin was sitting back casually with his feet up as he watched the Liaoning.
“As can be inferred from the picture, there was only 2,000 meters between the U.S. vessel and the Liaoning,” the official said.
“The picture may cause unnecessary friction as it may be taken to indicate that the United States was looking down on the Chinese aircraft carrier,” the official added.
An MSDF destroyer and patrol aircraft were also tracking and monitoring the Chinese ship.
Japanese and Chinese defense authorities are still working to set up a hotline under a bilateral air and maritime communication mechanism.
In order to prevent unintended clashes, SDF ships and aircraft on the scene need to communicate directly with their Chinese counterparts.
In 2013, a Chinese warship locked a weapons-targeting radar on an MSDF destroyer in the East China Sea. In the South China Sea, a Chinese warship sailed dangerously close to a U.S. Aegis destroyer in 2018.
MSDF Chief of Staff Adm. Hiroshi Yamamura told a recent press conference that MSDF vessels communicate with warships of other countries by radio when passing each other.
“As communication is ensured, there’s no problem at the moment,” he added.