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Chinese target-locked MSDF ship, chopper

by Reiji Yoshida and Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writers

Chinese warships locked their fire-control radar on a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer and a helicopter on two separate incidents last month in the East China Sea, prompting the government Tuesday to denounce the “very dangerous act” and lodge a formal protest with Beijing.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera held a hastily arranged news conference Tuesday evening to reveal the incidents, which took place on Jan. 19 and 30, saying the ministry had just finished analyzing the radar from the Chinese frigates Jiangkai I and the Jiangwei II.

After what it described as a careful study of the data, the ministry concluded the signals came from the Chinese ships’ fire-control systems and were aimed at the MSDF ship and helicopter.

Onodera denounced the “very abnormal” acts and said they “could develop into a very dangerous situation.”

“Usually any country that owns ships like these won’t (direct the radar) of their fire-control system (on ships of another country) unless in extreme circumstances,” Onodera said.

The fire-control system is used to aim a warship’s weapons, including missiles.

The fire-control “radar of a ship is activated before the use of weapons. Directing such radar signals at another party is a dangerous act that could lead to unpredictable situations,” a senior Defense Ministry official said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday condemned China over the recent locking of a weapons-targeting radar but told a Diet session that China and Japan should maintain a “mutually beneficial strategic relationship” and try to prevent such incidents from happening and escalating.

“It was a unilateral, provocative and dangerous act, and extremely regrettable,” Abe told an Upper House session, adding such target-lock action could have triggered a crisis.

“I urge strong restraint by China so the situation will not unnecessarily escalate,” Abe said, stressing the need for the two countries to go back to the principle of a “strategic relationship of mutual benefit.”

Onodera on Tuesday did not reveal where the two incidents took place because that is classified information pertaining to MSDF operations.

But Kyodo News quoted a source in the ruling coalition as saying both incidents took place near the Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu in China, which are controlled by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan.

According to Defense Ministry officials, the 3,953-ton Jiangkai I emitted radar signals at around 5 p.m. Jan. 19 that set off the threat-alarm system onboard a SH-60K helicopter from the MSDF destroyer Onami.

The chopper was flying several kilometers from the ship over the high seas, the ministry said.

At around 10 a.m. Jan. 30, the MSDF destroyer Yudachi detected the fire-control system radar from the Jiangwei II, which was about 3 km away, over the course of several minutes, the ministry said.

Both incidents immediately “raised the sense of tension” among the MSDF crews, Onodera said.

Neither of the Chinese ships tried to communicate with the MSDF by VHF, as is customary among navies worldwide, according to the Defense Ministry.

In Beijing on Wednesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it is “not aware” of details about the incidents, indicating the action was at the Chinese navy’s initiative.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Tuesday expressed concerns about the actions by the Chinese warships.

“I will say that with regard to the reports of this particular lock-on incident, actions such as this escalate tensions and increase the risk of an incident or a miscalculation,” she told a daily briefing in Washington.

“They could undermine peace, stability and economic growth in this vital region. So we are concerned about it,” she said.

Katsunobu Kato, deputy chief Cabinet secretary and a close aide to Abe, told reporters Wednesday that Beijing and Tokyo should “control situations” so individual incidents will not affect what he and Abe describe as “one of the most important bilateral relationships” for Japan.

“We’d like to handle the relationship with China from a broad perspective,” he said, adding Tokyo and Beijing should establish a hotline to prevent maritime confrontations from escalating.

Relations with China have been severely strained since the central government effectively nationalized the Senkakus in September.

  • http://www.mikesryukyugallery.com RyukyuMike

    Geez. The hosing down of each others warships is the kind of stuff I prefer. Let’s don’t get these two Asian countries in a real fighting mode !

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004421197233 Tatsushige Shigure

    Weapons Lock? If you did that on the Royal Australian Navy, or the Royal Navy(UK) you would have a missile fired on you. Japan needs to stop playing about with China, What is next weapons lock and a Missile a few second later. Why wait until a Destroyer is sinking to say Oops bad bad China.

    And filing protest is like two school girls calling names at one another and then running to the headmaster … Grow up!

    • TimG

      China is trying to provoke Japan into shooting first. As galling as it is the Japanese need to show restraint. Diplomatic protests change nothing but they do help establish Japan as the reasonable and responsible party in the face of aggression.

    • orthotox

      Here they come! The invasion of the armchair generals!

  • Stephen Verry

    Why would the Japanese government be surprised by this after the provocative and illegal annexation of these disputed islands?

  • Mark Garrett

    Just more rhetoric from the Japanese government to influence public opinion so that Abe can rewrite the constitution and begin building up the military. A dangerous path to go down.

  • MrsERP

    I wonder what happens to the formal protests that are submitted via diplomatic channels. Do they ever get serious attention from China? When will the countries’ top leaders ever speak diplomatically to finally solve these issues?

  • itoshima2012

    @google-ae5d5da523acd54e0a080c06e9ac5f2c:disqus I must have missed something, when did Japan annex its islands? If nationalized or private, it’s still Japanese territory. The literature (politcs and international law) supports the Japanese claim and not the Chinese one. What China is doing is very very dangerous, one wrong step and it could blow into a huge problem. China couldn’t care less for 100s of years and now that supposedly there’s some oil/gas they dig out old maps and claim the Islands…. A couple of months ago they even claimed Hawaii…. Hillary told them at the time “just come and get it”…. China needs to calm down, it’s a paper dragon with huge internal problems from which it is trying to divert. Maybe they should start tecahing their people about the Great Famine….. and not about 2 islands which were never part of te PRC….

  • David C

    Having one’s military target locked on by other’s radar system is “very dangerous act”. What Japanese government failed to understand and appreciate is that nationalising the disputed islands is the first dangerous act leading to dangerous reactions. Japan may insist on that there is “no territorial dispute” with China, until war breaks out. The problem will never be solved until one acknowledge that there is a problem to start with.

  • Voice of reason

    Not one life is worth sacrificing over this island. So both sides chill.

  • KM, Tokyo

    Mark Garrett-
    While you are probably right that the announcement is simply a case of using the press to strengthen your political position, this is certainly not “just rhetoric”. As other people have already noted, most countries treat a radar lock as a “hostile act”. The US ROE (rules of engagement) in ALL theatres (meaning not just Afghanistan or Iraq, but anywhere in the world) authorizes forces to treat any radar lock as identical to live fire, and to “respond appropriately”

    While you are trying to evaluate how “militaristic” the Abe Administration is, spare a thought for what might happen if a Chinese destroyer accidentally locked on a US helicopter rather than a Japanese one (and the US forces on Okinawa do operate helicopters in that general vicinity). In Afghanistan, the soldiers have a saying: “scorched that flasher”. This means that a radar signal locked onto their airship and (without asking questions, or even hesitating to think) they fired an immediate barrage of missile and cannon fire at the area from which the signal (“flash”) came and turned it into a barren circle of smoking rock.

    This should be an issue of real concern to ANYONE living in Japan. If a Chinese destroyer ends up at the bottom of the East China Sea, it wont matter whether it was a US or Japanese missile that sank it. It is high time the Chinese stopped playing with matches and gunpowder, and started acting like responsible adults

    • Mark Garrett

      Thanks for the military lesson. It’s been a few years since I did my tour.

      The problem with your eloquent speech is that it goes under the assumption that the Japanese government is telling the truth. Given its track record over the years, forgive me for carrying a bit of skepticism. I’m certainly not siding with China as they are just as guilty of antagonizing the situation, but there is no doubt that Abe, as he announced during his ascension to the throne, has every intention of amping up the anti-China rhetoric and moving Japan back towards a more militaristic presence in this arena.

      As someone else stated, if this incident did in fact occur as we are being led to believe, immediate action would/should have been taken. Spouting off through the media a week later just doesn’t smell right.

      • KM, Tokyo

        Oh right . . . . . Japan should have fired at a Chinese destroyer, and started a firefight that would have left both parties looking bad, rather than shaming China publicly and earning even more support from third parties by acting like a mature adult and dealing with the provocation diplomatically. Yes, that makes complete sense.

        If only you were running things we would all be better off . . . . .

        Now, with tongue removed from cheek, why dont we consider the actual situation as it played out in both the public eye (press) and the diplomatic sphere. Japan was “flashed” twice by Chinese destroyers. While this no doubt caused some serious anxiety for the people being targeted, the MSDF personnel probably realised that China would be crazy to shoot first, and the best response would be to just obtain all possible corroborative evidence and then provide it to the diplomats.

        The SDF brass probably contacted China looking for a sign that this was just some hotheaded ship commander or weapons officer trying to get cute, and when China failed to provide a “gee that was an honest mistake. My bad.” ….sort of reply, they concluded that this was not a rogue act, but a carefully planned provocation.

        Meanwhile, while the private communications were taking place, Japan was surely obtaining every piece of scanning radar and electronic surveillance data it could find, from its American, Australian, Filipino and (perhaps even) Taiwanese friends, so that by the time they held the news conference – a week later – they could lay everything out on the table for diplomats from other countries and thus establish beyond doubt what had happened.

        The questions about why they didnt announce to the media immediately are foolish. Of COURSE they didnt do that. It would be a hundred times less effective (from the standpoint of winning friends and swaying international opinion) go off half cocked and “expose” your opponent before you had 1) obtained third party verification, and 2) given the other side a formal opportunity to apologise. By acting as they did, Japan LOOKS like the reasonable, responsible party and China LOOKS like the villain . . . . . regardless of whether or not you believe that Japan is just as responsible as China

  • orthotox

    On the one hand it is reported that the crews knew immediately that they were in weapons radar lock, while on the other hand it took the ministry some time to determine this fact for a certainty. If the “target” knows when the weapons beam, as distinct from ordinary tracking radar, is on them, why does the ministry need to investigate the technicalities and weigh the evidence?

    • KM, Tokyo

      Obviously, because the ministry wanted to find some diplomatic way of dealing with the incident without a formal complaint. This no doubt included contacting the Chinese military and asking them to offer some sort of face-saving explanation: “Oops – that was just a slip of the finger. I hit the wrong button My bad.”

      The fact that they held the big PR event shows that China didnt offer that sort of face-saving option, so Japan decided to use the media as a “tit” to China’s “tat”. Again, it suggests that the Chinese (not necessarily the top officials, but at least a few Generals) are playing games with matches and incendiary devices.