TOKYO - A Chinese frigate did direct fire-control radar at a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer on high seas near the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in January but it was not a planned action, senior Chinese military officials told Kyodo News recently.
Admitting for the first time to Japan's allegation that weapons-targeting rather than monitoring radar had been used, the officials, including flag officers, said an "emergency decision" had been made by the commander of the frigate.
The claim that the incident was accidental is seen by Japanese Defense Ministry officials as signaling that China is either playing mind games or is softening its stance toward Japan.
The Chinese government has been critical of Japan, describing Tokyo's reports about the radar incident as a "fabrication," and is expected to maintain its stance despite the officials' accounts.
With regard to a violation of Japanese airspace in December near the islands, which are claimed by Beijing, the Chinese officials admitted it was part of the military's action plan but added they did not intend to aggravate the situation and do not intend to do so in the future.
The officials urged Japan to calm the situation by not becoming fixated with the incidents and called on Japan to refrain from disclosing its data proving the radar lock.
"If this is true, one has to question a military system that leaves (such) authority in commanders' hands even when they are not in a dire situation," said Maritime Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, adding he could not judge the Chinese officials' intention in admitting to the radar lock.
According to the Chinese officials, the frigate and the Japanese destroyer were three kilometers apart on the morning of Jan. 30 around 110 to 130 km north of the Senkaku Islands. The commander of the frigate directed the fire-control radar based on its rules of engagement without seeking direction from the fleet command or navy headquarters.
"The communication system used by the Chinese navy is not as advanced as those of Japan and the United States," a senior official said regarding why the commander did not seek direction from above. Whether the commander was reprimanded over the incident remains unknown.
The officials said the airspace violation was planned by the staff section of the national Land and Sea Border Defense Committee, which plays the role of a liaison office for the Chinese military, the State Oceanic Administration and the fishing bureau of the Agriculture Ministry, with the aim of escalating the situation and was carried out using SOA aircraft.
The flight course and altitude were thoroughly planned by calculating the points of Japanese radar and airborne early warning and control systems, they said.