Japan wary of Chinese-Russian military drills

Kyodo News

Posted at Apr 28 2023 08:00 PM

Japan demonstrated wariness of military drills conducted by China and Russia in regional waters, saying in its new five-year ocean policy approved by the Cabinet on Friday that its "national interests are under greater threat than ever before."

The revised Basic Plan on Ocean Policy also pledged to increase cooperation between the Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Coast Guard in preparation for emergencies, amid growing concern over China's increasing military assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida emphasized the need for a significant overhaul of ocean policy by bringing together the wisdom of industry, academia and government, saying, "The situation in the waters around Japan is becoming tense."

The latest ocean policy guideline cited several examples of threats to Japan, such as ballistic missile launches by North Korea, repeated intrusions by Chinese coast guard vessels into Japanese territorial waters, and joint naval exercises by Beijing and Moscow.

The new basic plan said China's rise has rapidly changed the military balance in the Indo-Pacific region, with Sino-Japanese ties often strained over the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which Beijing claims and calls Diaoyu.

Relations between Tokyo and Moscow, meanwhile, have been deteriorating since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Japan has levied economic sanctions on Russia in tandem with other major countries.

As part of efforts to strengthen its maritime security, the basic plan outlined Japan's commitment to the promotion of research and development of autonomous underwater vehicles and remotely operated vehicles for surveillance and resource exploration activities.

The Basic Plan on Ocean Policy, which was first crafted in 2008 and revised every five years, also stressed that Japan's remote islands are important to secure its "vast exclusive economic zone" and to reap benefits from exploiting maritime resources.

In a related move, the government on Friday set a guideline on procedures to place the coast guard under the command of a defense minister in the event of an armed attack against Japan. The move aims to better facilitate cooperation between the coast guard and SDF.

In accordance with a direction by the defense chief following Cabinet approval, the coast guard would engage in logistics support, including evacuating residents, in a bid to enable the SDF to concentrate on its operations, the government said.

The SDF and the coast guard will also try to enhance their collaborative response capabilities in the event of a military attack by carrying out joint drills, defense ministry officials told reporters.

Enacted in 1954, the SDF law originally stipulated that a defense minister could command the head of the non-military coast guard in case of emergency, but no regulations had been established on specific procedures.

The Japan Coast Guard Law explicitly prohibits the coast guard from functioning as a military force.

In the future, a defense minister would have the authority to control the coast guard and mobilize the SDF only if they faced difficulties in effectively and appropriately addressing a military attack through normal cooperation.

In its long-term National Security Strategy policy guidelines, updated in December 2022, the government promised to allow a defense minister to supervise the coast guard in the event of a contingency.