Thursday, January 17, 2013

Japan Mulls Military Equipment Near Disputed Isles

Japan may station military equipment on islands near an archipelago at the center of a dispute with China, officials said Jan. 16, after a number of airborne near-confrontations.

The defense ministry will ask for money in the next fiscal year to study the idea of putting mobile radars and communication systems on islands near the Japan-controlled Senkakus, which Beijing calls the Diaoyus, a defense spokesman said.

“The study is part of our plan to operate in southwestern islands with flexibility,” the spokesman said.

The comment came after reports said Japan is considering permanently stationing F-15 fighter jets on Shimoji, a small island near the Senkakus.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera denied that and said Jan. 15: “We are studying various options as to how to build a sound security system in our southwestern waters.”

The maritime dispute, which has simmered for years, heated up last year when the Japanese government nationalized some of the islands, triggering anger and demonstrations in China. Observers said the protests had some backing from communist authorities in Beijing, who use nationalism to bolster their claims to legitimacy.

Tokyo’s defense ministry has said F-15s were sent airborne to head off Chinese state-owned — but not military — planes four times in December, including one occasion when Japanese airspace was breached. They were also mobilized in January, it said.

On the occasion when Japan says its airspace was breached, the air force did not detect the Chinese aircraft, which had already moved off by the time fighter jets were scrambled.

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