Russia’s Vostok-2022 military exercises scheduled to take part in the country’s east, including the Southern Kuril Islands, in September are raising serious concerns in Tokyo, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said on Monday.
“We have expressed [to the Russian side] our concern about the activity of Russian troops close to our country amid ongoing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The government continues to collect information and will act accordingly,” Matsuno said at a press conference in Tokyo.
On July 27, Tokyo gave Moscow a protest note due to Russia’s plans to conduct the Vostok-2022 drills on Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan, and Habomai islands, to which Tokyo refers to as its own “Northern Territories,” the Japanese official recalled.
According to Matsuno, the conduct of the military exercises “does not coincide with Japan’s position and is unacceptable.” In this regard, Tokyo made a submission to the Russian government demanding that the four islands be excluded from the drills area, the Japanese chief cabinet secretary added.
The strategic Vostok-2022 military exercises will be held in Russia’s Eastern Military District from September 1-7. The drills will involve members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), as well as other partner states, including Azerbaijan, Algeria, Armenia, Belarus, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Laos, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Syria and Tajikistan.
Over 50,000 people, more than 5,000 units of weapons and military equipment, including 140 aircraft, 60 warships, boats and support vessels, will be involved in the maneuvers.
The Kuril Islands is a Pacific Ocean archipelago that became part of Russia after World War Two in 1945. Japan has refused to give up its sovereignty claims to the four islands, which it refers to as its Northern Territories.
In 1956, the Soviet Union and Japan signed a joint declaration in which Moscow agreed to consider the possibility of transferring the Habomai and Shikotan islands to Japan after the conclusion of a peace treaty. The fate of Kunashir and Iturup was not addressed in the document.
The Soviet Union hoped the Joint Declaration would put an end to the dispute, while Japan considered it only as part of the solution to the problem and did not renounce its claims to all the islands.
Subsequent negotiations did not result in a peace treaty. Serious opposition arose from the United States, which threatened that if Japan agreed to the transfer of only two of the four islands, the move would affect the process of returning Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty.
In March, Moscow withdrew from the negotiations after Tokyo joined Western countries in sanctioning Russia for its military operation in Ukraine. In turn, the Japanese government suspended visa-free travel exchanges with Russia for “the foreseeable future.”
Japan Boosts Defenses
Japan has intensified efforts to beef up its missile arsenal to counter the expanding Chinese military posture in the region. The nation has taken numerous significant measures, in particular, to expand its arsenal of long-range missiles.
A Japanese daily newspaper has reported that Japan wants to develop 1,000 long-range cruise missiles to boost its counterattack capability against China.
According to the Yomiuri newspaper, citing government sources, the projectiles are expected to be based in Kyushu and Japan’s Southwest Islands. They can be launched from ships and fighter jets.
The newspaper reports that Japan wants to bridge the “missile gap” with China, which has 1,900 land-based missiles and approximately 300 sea-based missiles. The latest report comes after China recently conducted military drills in the waters and skies surrounding Taiwan following a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The Yomiuri also mentioned that Japan is preparing to modernize and increase the range of its homegrown Type 12 surface-to-ship missile used by the Ground Self Defense Force to hit targets more than 1,000 kilometers away.
The report states that Japan’s upcoming National Security Strategy is expected to include “counter-strike capabilities.” Also, it states that Japan’s Ministry of Defense intends to enhance missile manufacturing by setting up a mechanism to promote capital investment by related industries because cruise missiles would form the foundation of this capacity.
The weapons, which might be fired from ships or aircraft, would be capable of reaching China’s and North Korea’s coastal regions. North Korea is said to have placed hundreds of ballistic missiles within striking distance of Japan.
China and North Korea are both allegedly working on hypersonic missiles that are challenging to intercept. Therefore, the Self-Defense Forces can no longer effectively manage the situation with interceptor missiles alone.
Japan’s Efforts To Close Missile Gap With China
Since the end of World War II, Japan has pursued a pacifist foreign policy and limited the use of its armed forces for self-defense. However, many experts believe Japan may have to reconsider its defensive stance in light of the more advanced threats from China and North Korea.
Tokyo lacks offensive capabilities that can be utilized to attack enemy targets from its land, but it nonetheless has one of Asia’s most capable militaries. A few years ago, Japan started a program to improve its missile capabilities in response to anticipated Chinese and North Korean threats.
In his article in 2021, Bruce Klinger, a senior research fellow at Asian Studies Center, mentions the findings of a July 2020 committee of the Liberal Democratic Party, which asserts that Japan needs to think about measures to reinforce deterrence, including the capacity to prevent ballistic missile assaults from the territories of its opponents.
He also notes former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s belief that passive missile defenses such as Patriot and Aegis were inadequate to defend Japan. This is especially troubling given Beijing’s formidable missile stockpile.
China and North Korea can launch ballistic missiles at exceptionally high angles, producing extremely high terminal velocities that compromise the efficacy of any missile defense system.
Klinger notes that the flaws in passive missile defenses may have compelled Japan to change its defensive stance from shooting down missiles to “shooting the archer.”
China already has intermediate-range ballistic missiles capable of targeting any Japanese city and the US military base in Guam. The Chinese state-run media has termed these missiles “ship-killer” and “Guam-killer.”
It was previously reported that the US is considering building a missile network on the first island chain stretching from Okinawa to Taiwan and the Philippines in response to growing concerns over China’s military activities.
A US Congress study suggested persuading allies to agree to the US to put intermediate-range missiles in the region in preparation for a Taiwan emergency.
Fumio Kishida, the prime minister of Japan, has promised to considerably increase defense spending, which has been kept at just about 1% of GDP.
According to local media, the defense ministry of Japan is expected to request 5.5 trillion yen ($40.2 billion) for the next fiscal year, which is a modest increase from the 5.18 trillion requested for the current fiscal year.
However, the ministry was also anticipated to request clearance for several unpriced items, such as the cost of developing new long-range cruise missiles.
Altogether, Japan’s latest actions show that it is working to close the missile capability gap with China while also addressing North Korean threats.
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