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?