Chinese pilots 'ignored orders' in fly-by
People within Japan's Defence Ministry have accused Chinese helicopter pilots of ignoring orders from their own fleet and endangering the safety of Tokyo's vessels, after they buzzed the ships in waters close to Japanese territory.
Claiming that 'insubordination' could lead to accidents that may trigger a backlash in public sentiment, the unnamed sources told the Yomiuri newspaper that Chinese pilots apparently did not follow orders and that rules needed to be drawn up between the two sides to lessen the possibility of an incident.
'If a Chinese helicopter goes out of control and collides with one of our destroyers, then anti-Japanese sentiment will flare up in China,' the ministry official is quoted as saying. 'We need to establish rules to prevent accidents on the open sea.'
The official added that the Chinese Navy helicopter that approached a destroyer of Japan's Self-Defence Forces on April 8 was ignoring operational orders. The crew of the Japanese vessel Suzunami requested by radio that the aircraft not approach any closer, but that request had no effect.
The Chinese helicopter finally came to a halt about 90 metres from the ship and at a height of about 30 metres - lower than the ship's radio mast. The Chinese crew of the Ka-28 anti-submarine helicopter could clearly be seen leaning out of an open door and taking photographs of the Japanese ship.
The Japanese destroyer had been sent to monitor the exercises by the Chinese fleet.
In a second incident on April 21, another Chinese helicopter circled the Japanese destroyer Asayuki some 500 kilometres south of the main Okinawa island. The ministry believes that this aircraft was also ignoring orders from its own fleet commander.
'The Ministry of Defence has requested confirmation of the events from the Chinese side through diplomatic channels,' a spokeswoman said.
However, another person in the ministry said it was possible that the Japanese side concluded that the helicopter pilot was ignoring the orders of his superiors by listening in on radio communications between the aircraft and its mother ship.
Speaking the day after the second incident, Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa rejected China's claim that the manoeuvres were 'necessary defence measures'.
'It was an extremely dangerous approach and could impede the friendly relationship between the two countries,' he said. 'That is why we firmly protested to the Chinese government through diplomatic channels that this should never be allowed to happen again.
'Even though it happened in international waters, this was an extremely dangerous situation.'
Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada added: 'We heard the Chinese explanation and were not necessarily convinced by it.'
The Chinese ambassador to Tokyo, Cheng Yonghua, hit back at the Japanese claims in a press conference on Tuesday, criticising the Japanese military for following Chinese vessels conducting exercises on the high seas.
'Japanese ships and patrol planes followed [Chinese vessels] for quite a long time,' he said. 'I think such a thing is a betrayal of mutual trust.'
He said the exercises were carried out under international rules and requested Japan's understanding.
'The Japanese people may be concerned that China's military strength is growing,' he said. 'China now has to be able to put some emphasis on building up its military forces as the country has developed and grown.
'We will not take any strategic actions. We are also trying to be transparent on this matter.'
But with Chinese newspapers quoting analysts as saying that any move by Japan to prospect for resources beneath the seabed close to the disputed Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea - which are known in Japan as the Senkakus - could trigger a clash, the prospect of more naval confrontations in the region seems strong.
'China's naval capabilities and its power-projection capability are growing and it is likely that we will see more such incidents in the future,' Masafumi Iida, a China expert at the National Institute of Defence Studies, said. 'It depends on the attitude of the Chinese military, of course, although I can see no benefit from intensified tension between the two nations' forces or from any provocative actions.'