TOKYO: Chinese state-run media on Monday slammed a reported plan by Tokyo to develop a new land-to-sea missile and place it on remote southern islands, saying the move would make Japanese military sites there a “target” for Chinese forces.
The Global Times newspaper, known for its ardently nationalist stance, said in an editorial that the deployment “could threaten all Chinese ships in the waters” of the disputed Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu in China, which are just 170 kilometers away.
The Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Sunday that Tokyo would deploy the missile, with a range of 300 km, to islands such as Miyako in Okinawa Prefecture, which lies near a strategic gateway to the Pacific for China. The Yomiuri did not cite its sources.
“A militarized Miyako Island should be a target of Chinese military forces, which could consider annihilating its military base if in war with Japan,” the Global Times said in the editorial. “It is best for both that the scenario won’t happen.”
The commentary comes after repeated protests by Japanese Foreign Ministry officials over a series of “provocative” incursions by Chinese ships into the territorial and contiguous waters surrounding the Senkakus.
According to Ashley Townshend, a research fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney and visiting fellow at Fudan University’s Asia-Pacific Center, Japan’s main aim in deploying sophisticated missiles would be to bolster its ability to defend the Ryukyu Islands. The Ryukyus are a chain of Japanese territories stretching southwards from Kyushu, comprising Okinawa, Miyako and the Yaeyama Islands near Taiwan.
“Since 2013, Japan has been strengthening its military capabilities along these islands to check China’s rising power in the Western Pacific,” Townshend said. “By fortifying these islands with new radars, missiles and naval assets, Japan will be in a better position to both defend its far-flung territories, and to use them, if necessary, as part of an anti-access, area-denial strategy to prevent Chinese military forces from entering the Pacific via the strategic Miyako Strait.
“It this regard,” he added, “Tokyo’s actions are designed to complicate Chinese military operations in the event of Northeast Asian confrontation.”
In March, Tokyo brought a new radar station online on Yonaguni Island, also in Okinawa Prefecture.
The installation was expected to boost Japan’s ground-based surveillance network and extend its intelligence-gathering capabilities—possibly as far as the northern tip of the South China Sea.
But these new moves by Tokyo are only add-ons to existing infrastructure in the area.
“Japan has had ground-based anti-ship missiles in its inventory since the 1980s, when they were fielded near key straits in the Japanese archipelago to help bottle up the Soviet Far Eastern Fleet in the Sea of Japan, said Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. “So, there is nothing new to the basic capability.”
Fits into defense plans
According to Graham, deploying modernized versions of these anti-ship missiles fits with Japan’s current emphasis on defending the Ryukyus.
“Japan would be fielding these systems on islands that Beijing does not dispute as Japanese territory,” Graham said. “So it would be difficult for Beijing to argue convincingly that this exceeds the bounds of self-defense, as allowed for under Japan’s Constitution.”
In its editorial, the Global Times pointed to Japan’s position on Chinese actions in the South China Sea and said its own activity reeks of hypocrisy.
Tokyo has joined the US in criticizing Beijing’s apparent militarization of the South China Sea.
Beijing has deployed surface-to-air missiles to Woody Island in the Paracel chain of the disputed waters, while building up military-grade infrastructure on man-made islands in the hotly disputed Spratly Islands further south.
“Japan’s aggressive plan has barely met any opposition” in comparison to the Woody Island deployment, the commentary said. “Where is Japan’s respect for freedom of navigation in international waters?” it added.
But Townshend noted substantial differences between Japan’s military buildup on the Ryukyus and China’s moves on the features it controls in the South China Sea.
“Whereas Japan is militarizing its sovereign territory as it is entitled to under international law, China’s actions in the South China Sea are taking place on disputed features—many of which have been artificially enlarged—that fall within the exclusive economic zones of other Southeast Asian countries,” Townshend said. “This makes China’s actions illegal and provocative in a way which Japan’s are not.”
Tokyo has also not used the Self-Defense Forces’ presence in the Ryukyus to prevent Chinese warships and bombers from sailing through the Miyako Strait and international waters close to Japanese territories, which contrasts with Beijing’s behavior in the region.
“China, by contrast, routinely uses its military presence on South China Sea islets to deter other countries from operating in international waters that it has unilaterally labeled as Chinese military alert zones,” said Townshend.