The East China Sea inched another step closer to open conflict this week when Japan accused China of aiming missiles at a Japanese destroyer. According to Japan, Chinese vessels have locked fire-control radar at Japanese military vehicles twice in the past month, an action which is one of the first steps in preparation for firing a missile. The FT reports:
“This is extremely abnormal behaviour,” Itsunori Onodera, Japan’s defence minister said on Tuesday. “A small mistake could have led to a very dangerous situation.”
Mr Onodera said a Chinese frigate locked its fire-control radar on to the Japanese destroyer Yuudachi on January 30. He added that two weeks earlier, a Chinese ship targeted a Japanese ship-based helicopter in the same way.
If true, this is a serious provocation on the part of China. Few believe that China actually intended to fire a missile at Japan, but actions like this increase the risk that a conflict could break out by mistake. China, for its part, has not responded to the Japanese allegations.
If it turns out that China has indeed taken to pointing missiles at Japanese ships, it will make it that much more difficult for Japan to heed America’s advice for a softer touch, and one of the most volatile regions on Earth will become even more dangerous.