Thursday, August 1, 2013

China puts Japan on notice that warship drills are now routine

Japan may not like the reality, but the fact is that Chinese warships are in the neighborhood--and here to stay.
As Chinese Ministry of National Defense spokesman Geng Yansheng pointed out July 25, “Drills by the Chinese Navy in the Western Pacific have already become routine.”
While its warships brazenly pass through Japanese straits, Chinese submarines also roam unchallenged around Japanese waters. Even its aircraft are not above entering Japanese airspace.
Not surprisingly, the Defense Ministry in Tokyo is alarmed at China’s growing naval presence, which seems aimed at countering the might of key ally the United States.
In its 2008 white paper on national defense, the Chinese Navy said for the first time that it aims to enhance its operational capabilities in the ocean. Since then, it has rapidly expanded its area of activity.
In particular, the deployment of forces to the Pacific began to increase sharply about two years ago, according to sources in Japan and China who are knowledgeable on defense issues.
From January to May this year, Chinese guided missile destroyers and other warships repeatedly entered waters between the main Okinawa island and Miyakojima island, which lies to the southwest, and staged maneuvers in the Western Pacific.
The Chinese Navy has effectively exceeded the 1st Island Chain, the country’s outer defense perimeter, which runs from Okinawa to the Philippines through Taiwan and is to counter the United States.
Earlier this month, five Chinese warships made a circuit of the Japanese archipelago for the first time. They passed the Soya Strait, located between Hokkaido and Sakhalin in the far north, traveled through the Sea of Okhotsk, entered the Pacific and then returned to China through a sea area northeast of Miyakojima.
The Chinese Navy is also now able to deploy its forces to the Western Pacific within the 2nd Island Chain that runs from the Japanese archipelago to Indonesia through Guam.
Yoji Koda, a former commander-in-chief of the Self-Defense Fleet, the powerful arm of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, said the Chinese Navy has clearly managed to expand its reach significantly.
“Refueling ships have been improved, and support capabilities, refueling in particular, have been enhanced,” he said.

According to an MSDF executive, like Japan and the United States, China has gained the technology to refuel its warships on both the starboard and port sides simultaneously. Its warships have also acquired the skill to travel in a zig-zag manner.
It has been also confirmed that Chinese warships were positioned on the assumption that an aircraft carrier had been deployed, and unmanned aircraft were put through their paces from the vessels, the official said.
Chinese submarines are known to have made trips submerged in Japanese contiguous zones on three occasions in May.
While the Japanese Defense Ministry has yet to formally disclose the country of origin of the submarines, informed sources said they were definitely Chinese.
According to another MSDF executive, Chinese subs are making more prolonged excursions. Technological advances mean they run more quietly than before, making it more difficult to detect them.
“In our drills in the Western Pacific, we do not regard certain countries (as enemies),” said Geng Yansheng, the Chinese National Defense Ministry spokesman.
However, Ni Lexiong, an expert on military issues, said, “The fact that Chinese warships passed the Soya Strait for the first time has a menacing effect (for Japan).”
China is also very wary of the U.S. “rebalancing” strategy under which 60 percent of its naval and air power is concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region. For this reason, China is expected to continue to focus on stepping up its maritime advances.

According to the Japanese Defense Ministry, Chinese warships use waters between the main Okinawa island and Miyakojima island most frequently when they are heading out into the Pacific.
In 2008, they used the route only once. But in 2012, the figure increased to seven.
In 2012, the warships also passed through the Osumi Strait, located between Kyushu island and Tanegashima island, in April for the first time. That same year, they also passed the contiguous zones of Japan’s Sakishima islands, located near Taiwan, in October, also for the first time.
It is not just Chinese warships that are making their presence felt. Other vessels operated by the Chinese government are also intensifying their activities.
A fleet of four or so ships are always traveling in waters around the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea after Japan purchased them from private ownership and made them state property last Sept. 11.
During the 322 days that followed up to July 29, Chinese government ships entered the contiguous zones of the uninhabited Senkakus on 229 days and Japanese territorial waters around the islands on 54 days.
The Chinese government ships that entered the contiguous zones or territorial waters were mainly the maritime surveillance ship Haijian and the fishery surveillance ship Yuzheng.
On July 22, however, the reorganized China Coast Guard was established, and all of its ships were named Haijing. On July 26, the Haijing vessels entered Japanese territorial waters for the first time.
In the sky, too, China is being more assertive. Late last year, Chinese aircraft entered Japanese territorial airspace over the Senkaku Islands for the first time. In fiscal 2012 that ended in March 2013, the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force scrambled its fighter jets against Chinese aircraft on 306 occasions, the largest ever. The figure also surpassed that of scrambles against Russian aircraft for the first time.
So far, Chinese aircraft had flown only over the East China Sea. On July 24, however, a Chinese airborne early warning plane made a return trip through the airspace over the sea area between the main Okinawa island and Miyakojima for the first time. The aircraft reached an area about 700 kilometers south of the main Okinawa island.
“Unless Japan and the United States make a system to share warning and surveillance information more closely, they will not be able to catch up with China’s moves,” said an executive of the Japanese Defense Ministry.

(This article was compiled from reports by Atsushi Okudera, Takashi Watanabe, Fumiaki Sonoyama and Ryuji Kudo.)

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