Less than two weeks away from the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in Hague issuing its ruling on the case brought by the Philippines vis-à-vis China’s territorial claim in South China Sea, tensions have been on the rise in East Asia.
It began when a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessel entered the contiguous water between Japan and China in the East China Sea on June 9. About a week later on June 15, a PLAN surveillance ship entered Japanese territorial waters off of Kagoshima. In both cases, Japan reacted strongly, protesting to the Chinese government over the PLAN’s behavior. And since June 29, fueled by a commentary by a retired Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) general, there has been an intense speculation over what transpired when a JASDF fighter scrambled to meet an approaching PLA Air Force (PLAAF) fighter on June 17. According to the general, the PLAAF fighter made a move that suggested it was about to attack the Japanese fighter.
As if those incidents were not enough, North Korea has provided an additional source of tension. On June 22,North Korea launched two ballistic missiles, believed to be the Musdan intermediate-range missile. Although at least one of the two launches was likely a failed test, this is nonetheless a provocative act that is in clear violation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2270.
Needless to say, Japan protested these incidents strongly (with the exception of the PLAAF-JASDF encounter on June 17 which, a senior government official suggested, Tokyo did not consider “an extraordinary action” by the Chinese fighter). With or without official protests lodged by the Japanese government, these incidents are the most recent illustrations of the worsening security environment surrounding Japan. Since it is unlikely for either of these two countries to dramatically change their behavior in the near future, it would be fair to say that Japan will continue to invest in its defense capability.
This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared in The Diplomat, on June 30, 2016.