Chinese military drone flies near Japanese islands, prompting Tokyo to scramble fighter jets
- Unmanned aerial vehicle, thought to be a WZ-7 Soaring Dragon, circles past Okinawa and Miyakojima, according to Japan’s defence ministry
- PLA drone operations likely a response to Tokyo’s new defence strategy and closer ties with Washington, observers say
The Japanese defence ministry said it spotted a Chinese military drone flying over waters between the islands of Okinawa and Miyakojima in southwestern Japan on New Year’s Day.
The ministry added that it would continue patrolling and surveillance as it was believed the Chinese military could be using drones in an effort to increase its operational capabilities.
Japan’s Self-Defence Forces responded by dispatching two escort ships to collect information and carry out warning and surveillance, according to the Japanese defence ministry.
Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Renmin University in Beijing, said China’s drone operations were aimed at responding to Japan’s tighter ties with the United States and the radical change to its national defence strategy.
Shi said the drone operations were a continuation of China’s years-long deterrence and combat preparations in response to US-Japan military actions targeting Beijing.
Choo Jae-woo, professor of Chinese studies at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, echoed that view, saying China’s drone intrusions near the Japanese islands were a response to Tokyo’s revised national defence strategy.
“I think it is like a protest against Tokyo’s new defence strategy,” Choo said. “Because of this, China’s activities in the East China Sea and Taiwan Strait may become more frequent to strengthen defence capacity in the surrounding region, as well as to send a message to Washington.”
However, Shi said the drone would probably not have a big impact on the already tense relations between Japan and China.
“Tension is already high militarily and will not further heighten only because of a single small action,” he said.