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Asia

China, Japan wary of each other over advanced missile radars

Beijing accuses Tokyo of disrupting regional stability by working with the US on missile defense radars. But Japanese experts slam China for trying to stop Japan from attempting to defend itself. Julian Ryall reports.

The Japanese government has yet to comment on what is being seen as a thinly veiled threat from China over its joint development with the US of a new generation of missile defense radars that will strengthen Japan's protective shield against any missile strike.

But political analysts here say Beijing's complaints are "ridiculous" and that attempting to exert pressure to weaken Japan's defenses is "deeply unprincipled."

China is also locked in a long-running dispute with South Korea over the deployment of the US military's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, despite Seoul's efforts to convince Beijing that it is designed purely to protect South Korean citizens from a belligerent and nuclear-armed regime in North Korea.

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China is worried that THAAD's powerful radar could gaze deep into Chinese territory and imperil the nation's security by compromising its missile capabilities.

Since the dispute arose, China has imposed a range of measures designed to harm South Korean businesses - including a ban on the sale of package tours to the country and a sharp increase in inspections of Korean firms' operations in China - although Beijing denies the changes are related to the THAAD deployment.

The latest comments by a representative of the government in Beijing have aroused concerns that similar unofficial sanctions could be used against Japan.

Impact on regional stability

Addressing a monthly press briefing at China's Defense Ministry recently, spokesman Ren Guoqiang said Japan's development of advanced radar systems designed to counteract incoming ballistic missiles would have a negative impact on strategic stability and damage trust between nations in the region.

He added that Tokyo should act "cautiously" and hinted that neighboring countries would be alarmed at any improved military capability because of imperial Japan's invasion and occupation of parts of Asia and the Pacific in the early decades of the last century.

"Especially because of historical reasons, relevant moves by Japan in the military and security field have always attracted close attention from its Asian neighbors and the international community," Reuters quoted Ren as saying. "Japan should act cautiously on the anti-missile issue," he added.

"It is a typical Chinese comment and attitude," said Yoichi Shimada, a professor of international relations at Fukui Prefectural University. "And it must be pointed out that China has already deployed a radar system that is able to cover all the Japanese and US bases in Japan, so this is another example of Beijing demanding one thing of its neighbors but ignoring other nations' concerns about its own abilities," he told DW.

Shimada added that Japan would arguably not need to deploy new radar and defensive missile systems if Beijing had not supported North Korea - both politically and materially - over the last seven decades, during which time the ruling Kim family in Pyongyang has been able to develop nuclear weapons and appears close to perfecting an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching targets in the continental US.

Recent missile launches

Underlining Japan's need to be able to defend its territory and population from unprovoked North Korean attacks, a missile was fired on Sunday from a mobile launcher unit on the east coast of North Korea. The weapon traveled an estimated 400 kilometers before falling into Japan's exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan. The launch - North Korean state media claimed it was a successful test of a new guidance system - was the third in a little over three weeks.

"China has played a big part in North Korea becoming a nuclear threat and it is only sensible that Japan takes countermeasures against that threat," Shimada said. "For China to try to interfere in Japan's defense is deeply unprincipled."

Garren Mulloy, an associate professor of international relations at Daito Bunkyo University, said making reference to imperial Japan's conquest of large parts of China is a "common tool for Japan-bashing because it is extremely easy to use."

The real reason that Beijing has been so stridently opposed to the deployment of both THAAD and now the land-based version of the Aegis anti-missile system that is aboard a number of Japanese navy warships is that it provides better defensive coverage, which impacts China's offensive strategy, say observers.   

"Basically, the Chinese have no right to make these sorts of demands against its neighbors, in part because the situation we are in today in Northeast Asia - a nuclear-armed North Korea - is in large part due to Beijing's policies," Mulloy said.

Raketenabwehr Test (AP/ US Navy)

Beijing has been stridently opposed to the deployment of both THAAD and now the land-based version of the Aegis anti-missile system that is aboard a number of Japanese and US navy warships

'To complain is ridiculous'

"These developments are not aimed at China; they are simply a reaction to the perceived threat of ballistic missiles coming from North Korea and for Beijing to complain is ridiculous," Mulloy noted.

Perhaps one of China's concerns is that the spread of such advanced technology might next reach Taiwan, which Beijing still regards as a renegade province and has vowed to one day incorporate into the mainland regime.

Shimada believes that China will continue to exert pressure against Japan, but that the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be strong enough to resist efforts to influence domestic policies.

He is less optimistic about South Korea. "There are clear parallels with the situation in South Korea, but now they have elected what is effectively a pro-Chinese and pro-North Korean government, I fully expect the country to become a virtual protectorate of China," he added.

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