On Jan. 2, Japan reportedly sent out fighter jets and naval craft to observe a fleet of Chinese ships operating in the Pacific Ocean.
Later, the Japanese military detected a military drone over the same area, adding more pressure on the island government to monitor Beijing’s military expansion close to their territory.
Fighters out in the open
Japan’s Ministry of Defence announced in a press release that the communist-run People’s Liberations Army’s (PLA) Liaoning carrier naval group — consisting of missile destroyers — was said to have passed between the islands of Kinawa and Miyakojima, sailing towards the Western Pacific on Dec. 16, Reuters reported.
The group sailed back on Jan. 1, after it launched its aircraft and helicopters in more than 300 take-offs during its voyage, the ministry added. No intrusions into Japanese territory have been reported since the deployment.
At the same time, the defense ministry also found a Chinese military drone soaring over the same area between Okinawa and Miyakojima. The WZ-7 drone took a similar route as the Liaoning group, and it also did not enter Japanese airspace.
“It was the first sighting of that type of drone around Japan… [and] it is the fourth type of Chinese military drone ever spotted,” officials of the defense ministry said, according to NHK.
The ministry also affirmed that it would resume monitoring and patrolling, anticipating that the PLA could be using its drones to expand its military capabilities.
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Amidst territorial disputes between the two countries, Beijing’s movements across the South China Sea have been an ongoing point of tension between China and several nations including the United States.
“From my point of view, the U.S. and China have been in war,” Japanese political commentator Yoko Ishii told Fox News in November. “America was fighting against terrorism, but now America has shifted the policy to fight against China.”
Ishii also stressed that Beijing was expanding its military reach by “invading” the territories around Japan’s Senkaku Islands — a known area of tensions between the two countries.
China conducted other military operations, including major military drills close to Japanese soil in May 2022. This came after Tokyo, in late December, moved to raise its defensive capabilities by increasing its military budget over the next five years.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida plans to heighten defense spending to “two percent of gross domestic product by 2027,” which amounts to a mountainous 6.8 trillion Japanese yen in increased spending.
This unfortunately pushed the country’s public debt which has already exceeded 2.5 times the size of its economy.
Shi Yinhong, international relations professor at Renmin University in Beijing, argued that China’s deployment of drones was in response to Japan’s close ties with the U.S. and the expanding military budget, SCMP wrote.
“Tension is already high militarily and will not further heighten only because of a single small action,” he said.