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East China Sea
Japan Makes Bold Bid to Deter China

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe just raised the stakes with China in a big way. The Financial Times reports:

Japan is planning to develop a new tactical ballistic missile that would reset Chinese military strategy around disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Plans for the surface-to-ship weapon, which would be the longest-range missile ever built by Japan, have emerged after prolonged months of rancour between Tokyo and Beijing over rival territorial claims.

As tensions have persisted, Japan revealed last month that it scrambled fighter jets a record 199 times in the second quarter as Chinese military activities intensified around Japan’s territorial waters and drew closer to the uninhabited Senkaku islands — a chain known as the Diaoyu in China.

The new missile, say military experts familiar with the plans, is designed to “complicate enemy planning”. By positioning them on Japanese islands in the East China Sea and with a range that stretches to the edge of Japan’s territorial claims, the missiles would discourage naval aggression. If an attacking force were planning a landing on a Japanese island, its commander would need to destroy the missiles beforehand — in effect initiating conflict.

It’s certainly a clever tactic, one with the potential to throw a wrench in China’s strategy. China and Japan are constantly arguing about which side is the aggressor, and this is Japan’s attempt to give China no way in to the East China Sea without using force.

Many regional governments are watching Japan, looking for signs that Abe is moving ahead with remilitarization or otherwise making big changes in Japan’s security posture. Abe’s appointment of the hawkish Tomomi Inada (a sort of Avigdor Lieberman figure) to the post of foreign minister has been interpreted as a sign that he’s preparing to get more assertive. Could this ballistic missile deployment be part of a broader strategy that Abe is just beginning to unfurl?

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  • f1b0nacc1

    So let me see if I have this straight: The Japanese are going to develop a new weapon system (which will take some considerable time, even if everything goes right, which It rarely does), deploy it in contested territory, and that will solve the problem?
    Missiles require a rather extensive infrastructure besides launchers, including targeting systems, etc. which are both expensive and subject to interference. Missiles are fine for shooting up warships, but what if the Chinese make use of the fishing boat militias (or some other asymmetric response) to implement their nefarious plans?
    I am not trying to suggest that this isn’t a good idea (it is a very good one, and long overdue), but the truth of the matter is that the situation has already deteriorated very badly in the region, and what the Japanese are doing is likely to be more of a tactical advantage in a war, not a deterrent to that war…

    • Observe&Report

      No one tactical advantage will be sufficient to deter an aggressor, but many such moves towards military normalisation could be a sufficient deterrent.

      • f1b0nacc1

        Note that I actually favor this approach, but I believe that TAI is far, far too sanguine about its usefulness against the sort of aggression that the Chinese have in mind. Take a look at what Indonesia is doing…rounding up the Chinese boats and sinking them. That doesn’t require new hardware, just a will to take action.

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