Tokyo denies Beijing’s claim that Japanese jets locked targeting radar on fighters over East China Sea

by Jesse Johnson and Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writers

China’s Defense Ministry has accused Japanese jets of locking their weapons-targeting radar on its fighters over the East China Sea, an allegation denied Tuesday by a high-ranking Japanese official.

In a statement posted to the ministry’s website late Monday, China rebuffed reports that emerged last week in Japanese media that a Chinese fighter had been close to firing on an Air Self-Defense Force jet that was scrambled over the East China Sea, home to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands. The islands are also claimed by China, where they are known as Diaoyu.

The Chinese ministry said two Su-30 fighter jets were approached on June 17 by two ASDF F-15 fighters at “high speed” and that the Japanese side had “even used fire-control radars to lock on” to the Chinese jets during what it termed as “a routine patrol” over the East China Sea air defense identification zone.

China unilaterally declared the ADIZ over the waters in 2013, a declaration that stoked concern at the time but which has largely been ignored by Japan and the United States.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda told a news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday that Japanese jets have “never taken any of the provocative actions as claimed” by China’s Defense Ministry, including locking their fire-control radar onto the Chinese fighters.

If a jet locks its fire-control radar onto another jet, it means it is ready to fire a weapon and usually triggers the alarm system for the pilot of the targeted aircraft as it can detect radar waves locked on itself.

An earlier report of the encounter by Kunio Orita, a former head of the ASDF’s Air Support Command, was published June 28 on the Japan Business Press website.

According to Orita, the Chinese fighter made a threatening maneuver as if to attack the ASDF jet, prompting the Japanese pilot to leave the area after judging that staying could lead to “an unanticipated contingency.”

Orita’s claims were officially denied by Hagiuda during a news conference June 29. Hagiuda confirmed that an ASDF fighter had been scrambled to check on a rapidly approaching Chinese military aircraft but said the Chinese jet had not made “an attack motion” against the Japanese side.

“The remarks from the Japanese side are just distorting facts by calling white black and sowing discord,” a representative from the Chinese Defense Ministry’s Information Bureau was quoted as saying in Monday’s statement.

The representative warned that the alleged Japanese “provocations” have the potential to cause aerial accidents and urged Japan “to meet with China half way” to create conditions for launching and operating a joint China-Japan maritime and air liaison mechanism.

Tokyo and Beijing agreed in December to continue working toward the creation of such a mechanism aimed at preventing unintended clashes at sea.

The statement comes after a Chinese frigate entered the contiguous zone just outside Japanese territorial waters around the disputed Senkaku Islands last month.

Later that month, a Chinese navy reconnaissance vessel entered Japanese territorial waters near Kuchinoerabu Island off Kagoshima Prefecture, also drawing strong protests from Japan. The move was just the second time since the end of World War II that a Chinese military ship had entered Japanese waters.

It also comes ahead of a highly anticipated international arbitration court ruling on Beijing’s South China Sea claims set to be announced July 12.

Experts say Japan is worried that China is ramping up its activity in the East China Sea in response to Tokyo’s support for the arbitration process and of Southeast Asian countries with overlapping claims in the South China Sea. Japan has joined the U.S. in bolstering ties with rival claimants Vietnam and the Philippines amid the territorial spat.

Beijing has slammed the moves by Tokyo, which is not a claimant in the South China Sea, as “meddling.”

“While Japan’s tricks of fanning the flames in the South China Sea may earn itself a reputation as a faithful lieutenant of the United States, they could hardly land Tokyo in a more favorable position in dealing with Beijing,” the state-run Xinhua News Agency said in an editorial Sunday.