China fighters’ abnormally close flying to SDF planes an aberrant provocation
An incident has taken place that must be condemned as a thoughtless and extremely dangerous provocation, an act that came within a hair’s breadth of a midair collision. We absolutely will not overlook this occurrence.
Two Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jets belonging to the Chinese military flew abnormally close to a Maritime Self-Defense Force OP-3C image data acquisition plane and an Air Self-Defense Force YS-11EB electronic intelligence plane Saturday, which were flying over the high seas in the East China Sea.
The incident occurred in airspace where Japan’s air defense identification zone overlaps with what China claims as its own ADIZ. One of the Chinese fighters was reported to have flown roughly 50 meters from the OP-3C aircraft, while the other came as close as about 30 meters from the YS-11EB plane.
International law does not explicitly stipulate the distance that airplanes should maintain from one another for safety purposes. However, the recent acts of flying extraordinarily close to the SDF planes are an affront to what are considered norms in the international community.
On Sunday, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera criticized China for its fighters’ aggressive behavior toward the SDF aircraft as “completely aberrant acts.” The Japanese government has lodged a protest over the incident through diplomatic channels, a natural response to the Chinese warplanes’ extremely close approaches.
The incident took place while China and Russia were conducting joint naval exercises in the East China Sea. The Defense Ministry said that at the time of the incident, the SDF planes were engaged in ordinary warning and surveillance duties at a considerable distance from the China-Russia exercise area. The Chinese Defense Ministry, however, issued a statement Sunday claiming that the SDF planes “monitored and interfered with the joint military drill by the navies of China and Russia.”
In the past, there have been several instances in which helicopters and airplanes of China’s State Oceanic Administration flew close to—within 100 meters—MSDF destroyers in the East China Sea.
SDF must not waver
The fighter jets that made extremely close approaches to the SDF planes were equipped with missiles and capable of flying at a far higher velocity. Beijing’s attempt to unilaterally justify such a dangerous show of force is absolutely unforgivable. While paying due attention to safety, the SDF must be resolute in continuing its warning and surveillance activities.
Behind the unusual approaches by the Chinese fighters may be the hard-line posture of the administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping, which has been pursuing a policy of expanding China’s hegemony in both the East China and South China seas under the banner of building the nation into a maritime power.
It is worrying that the Chinese troops deployed in these areas may repeat such extreme shows of force.
As demonstrated by an incident in January last year, in which a Chinese frigate locked its weaponry radar on an MSDF destroyer in the East China Sea, it is highly likely that the Chinese military has yet to put in place rules of engagement that would clearly prohibit military acts that run contrary to international norms.
In reference to the radar-locking incident, a meeting of the Western Pacific Naval Symposium held in China in April this year with 21 countries taking part adopted the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, defining such acts as targeting radar at a foreign naval vessel as “actions to be avoided.”
Japan, for its part, should draft an international code of conduct and a set of rules regarding military affairs for the prevention of a contingency or a collision of warships or aircraft, in close cooperation with the United States and other relevant countries, with the aim of persistently urging China to participate in the framework of rules.
Efforts should also be made to resume currently stalled consultations between Tokyo and Beijing to formulate a bilateral “maritime liaison mechanism” focusing on such matters as the establishment of a hotline between senior defense officers of the two countries, with a view to achieving an agreement on the matter as early as possible.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 26, 2014)