Thursday, November 11, 2004
Japanese Defense Agency Director Gen. Yoshinori Ono ordered Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) aircraft and surface ships to interdict and track a suspicious submarine spotted in the early hours of Nov. 10 in Japan's territorial waters near Miyako and Ishigaki islands in Okinawa prefecture. By the time the ship was dispatched, the submarine already had left Japan's waters, but still was being tracked by a Japanese P3C maritime patrol aircraft. Japanese Defense Agency officials suspect it was a Chinese nuclear submarine.
The incident is significant for two main reasons. First, it demonstrates the continuing evolution of the role of Japan's self-defense forces. Second, it reflects the growing tensions between China and Japan. Both the timing, coming amid a war of words between Tokyo and Beijing as to whether China is a military threat to Japan, and the place, near a proposed location for more forward-deployed Japanese and U.S. military aircraft, suggest that no accidental straying across amorphous maritime lines occurred....
On Nov. 7, Japanese media released information on a September Defense Agency report that postulates three scenarios in which China attacks Japan. The report, constructed by the committee on defense capability, is part of a broader defense review that will ultimately lead to the revision of the National Defense Program Outline. Beijing reacted strongly to the report, with Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue issuing a stinging rebuke Nov. 9. "The parties concerned should give up their Cold War mentality and work to promote peace and development in Asia, and the world as whole," Zhang said. Beijing accused Tokyo of trying to meddle in the Taiwan issue, and said such comments and actions are an affront to China's territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Japanese media reported in October that U.S. Marine aircraft and Japanese F-15C aircraft could be moving from Okinawa to Shimoji, an island in Okinawa prefecture further west -- and closer to Taiwan. In early November, there were reports that Tokyo was considering setting up an electromagnetic wave-detecting station on Miyako Island capable of intercepting communication signals from Chinese warships and aircraft. These same islands are where the suspected Chinese submarine was spotted.
The "growing tensions" between China and Japan go a long way to explaining why Japan has been so supportive -- by Japanese standards -- of the American effort in Iraq.
UPDATE (8:30 am Friday): Diplomatic ramifications.