The government has decided on a plan to develop land-to-sea missiles with a range of 300 km (186 miles) to protect Japan’s isolated islands, including the Senkakus, a local media report said Sunday, without citing sources.
Costs for development will be part of the Defense Ministry’s budget request for the fiscal year ending March 2018, according to the daily Yomiuri Shimbun. The government will aim for deployment around the year ending March 2024, it said.
Beijing has been stepping up pressure on Tokyo over the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, which are claimed as Diaoyu by China and Tiaoyutai by Taiwan.
Hundreds of fishing boats and more than a dozen coast guard vessels from China have been spotted recently in the area, encroaching at times on what Japan sees as its territorial waters. Any escalation in the long-running dispute between Asia’s two largest economies over the uninhabited islets raises the risk of an unintended military clash.
Ties between the major trading partners suffered a sharp deterioration in 2012 when Japan bought three of the East China Sea islands from a private landlord, effectively nationalizing the chain, but tensions had receded several years into the administrations of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
China had also been focused primarily on separate territorial disputes it has in the South China Sea.
The friction comes ahead of next month’s Group of 20 summit in China, where there has been talk of a potential meeting between Xi and Abe.
On Saturday, a Japanese government source said Chinese military fighter jets have approached the Senkakus since late May, with one flying within 50 km of Japan’s territorial airspace around the islets.
Tokyo scrambled Air Self-Defense Force fighter jets in response, the source said, calling such approaches by Chinese aircraft “abnormal.”
Chinese military airplanes have flown near the islets more than three times since late May, the source said.
From April to June, Japan scrambled ASDF fighter jets against Chinese aircraft approaching its airspace 199 times, breaking the previous record of 198, set over the preceding three months, the Defense Ministry said.
A Defense Ministry white paper released this month blasted China’s activities in the sea as “high-handed” unilateral attempts to alter the status quo by force.
Kunio Orita, a former head of the ASDF Air Support Command, published a report online in late June saying that an ASDF plane that had been scrambled employed a countermeasure against a possible missile attack and was forced to leave the area by the Chinese aircraft. The Defense Ministry has denied the report.
The United States has also expressed opposition to any attempt to undermine Japan’s administration of the islands, a reference to continued intrusions by Chinese government ships into Japanese waters around the islets despite Tokyo’s repeated protests.
Sea of Japan protest
The government has lodged a strong protest over a reported plan by South Korean lawmakers to visit a pair of disputed outcroppings in the Sea of Japan, requesting the trip’s cancellation.
Kenji Kanasugi, director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, phoned a minister at the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo on Saturday and said the plan is regrettable and totally unacceptable in light of Japan’s position on the sovereignty of the islands. The rocky islets, called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, are controlled by Seoul but claimed by Tokyo.
A Japanese diplomat in Seoul also protested to Chung Byung-won, director-general of the South Korean Foreign Ministry’s Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau.
According to South Korean media reports, both ruling party and opposition lawmakers were planning to make the visit on Monday, the 71st anniversary of the Korean Peninsula’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule.