Japanese alarm at rise in Russian military activity
Japan has warned of an increasing Russian military presence in North-East
Asia, with additional exercises and incursions into Japanese territory in
the last 12 months by naval and airborne forces.
By Julian Ryall in Tokyo
Last Updated: 5:50PM BST 05 Sep 2008
Tokyo’s annual white paper on defence underlined the instability in the
region by adding a resurgent Russia to the traditional threats to peace
posed by China and North Korea.
Released on Friday, The Defence of Japan 2008 expresses particular concern
over Moscow’s muscle-flexing in the region, pointing out that it comes at a
time of heightened tension with the West over Georgia.
“Russian military operations seem to be increasingly more active in the
vicinity of Japan, including exercises and training, in association with the
recovery of troop skill levels,” the 425-page report states. “These are
trends that require close monitoring.”
The study cites an increase in the number of exercises and patrols by
warships of the Vladivostock-based Russian Pacific Fleet, including
nuclear-powered submarines, and long-range aircraft.
On February 9th, aircraft of the Japan Air Self-Defence Forces were
scrambled to intercept a Tu-95MS Bear bomber within Japanese air space over
the Izu chain of islands, south of Tokyo. It was the first time a Russian
military aircraft had been detected operating in the area since 1975.
“I think the renewed Russian presence in areas close to Japan has come as a
surprise to the Defence Ministry here, but the feeling is still that the
largest threat to stability is from China and North Korea,” said defence
analyst Hisao Yuwashima.
And while it is the amount of money that China is investing in expanding and
modernising the three arms of its military, it is the sheer unpredictability
of the North Korean regime that keeps that Japanese military on its toes, he
“Pyongyang says it is restarting its nuclear programme and already has
relatively advanced ballistic missile technology,” he said. “The best thing
would be for Kim Jong Il to be overthrown or replaced and the country then
normalise its relations with neighbouring countries.”
The defence report does not comment on whether that might be a possibility
in the near future, but does point out that with the nuclear know-how that
Kim’s scientists will have learned, they might be in a position to develop
small nuclear warheads in a relatively short period of time.
The report also repeated its call for China to be more transparent on the
amount it is spending annually on defence, which Beijing officially put at
US$60 billion for 2008, a double-digit percentage growth for the 20th
“This pace of increase in official defence expenditures means that the
defence budget increases two-fold every five years,” the report notes. The
implication is that not all of Beijing’s spending on its military has been
declared, a charge that China has dismissed in the past.
The regime’s development of a submarine capable of launching ballistic
missiles with a range of 8,000 km is also of concern, along with the
successful testing of a laser system able to destroy satellites in orbit.
“China appears to have an interest in cyber warfare and appears to be
organising and training a specialised cyber warfare department,” the white
Taiwan is the key military concern for the Chinese authorities, while it
also has a territorial dispute with Japan over the Sankaku Islands in the
East China Sea. The white paper adds that Tokyo has ongoing territorial
disputes with Russia, South Korea and Taiwan, but describes all the islands
involved as “integral parts of Japanese territory.”
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