The Air Self-Defense Force is preparing to send C-130 transports packed with emergency supplies to earthquake-stricken China as soon as Tokyo gets the final go-ahead from Beijing, government officials said Thursday.
The ASDF began making preparations to go to China to help survivors of the quake in Sichuan Province after Beijing told Tokyo via unofficial channels that it would not object to the use of military planes.
The first and only priority of an ASDF dispatch would be to provide humanitarian aid to the earthquake survivors, the officials said, emphasizing there were no political ramifications.
“I’m not interested in discussion about (the political meaning of dispatching) ASDF planes,” Adm. Takashi Saito, joint chief of staff of the Self-Defense Forces, said Thursday at the Defense Ministry.
“Our country, too, is vulnerable to major earthquakes, and victims of the China disaster have been suffering very much. We’d like to firmly do what we can do to help them as a neighbor country,” he said.
Saito said some of the C-130s are ready to fly to China within 48 hours of getting the order.
The ASDF planes would represent the first presence of Japanese forces in China since the end of World War II.
The details of the mission, including the kinds of relief goods needed, are still being hammered out by the Foreign Ministry and its Chinese counterpart, Saito said.
But no troops are slated for dispatch. The chief of staff of the Ground Self-Defense Force, Gen. Ryoichi Oriki, said at a separate news conference Thursday that the GSDF at this point is only estimating the cost of the goods and equipment it could provide.
Japanese officials have suggested tents, blankets and medicine as priority items.
Under Japanese law, the SDF can and has been dispatched overseas for noncombat operations, including disaster relief missions and U.N.-led peacekeeping operations. But such actions are at times sensitive issues both at home and abroad.
In Asia, an SDF dispatch sometimes stokes memories of how Japan waged war on its neighbors during the war.
In the past, China expressed strong concerns about the way the SDF are playing a greater role overseas, even though they are strictly engaged in noncombat missions.
But Beijing’s diplomatic stance has since warmed toward Japan, as shown by Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Tokyo in early May, which was notable for the absence of wartime accusations.
“(A dispatch) would symbolize the recent Sino-Japanese relationship. We will just extend hands of assistance when the other is in trouble,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said Thursday.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said an airport in the Sichuan capital of Chengdu is the most likely destination for the ASDF planes, but Adm. Saito said later in the day the destination has not been decided yet.