At least eight Russian and Chinese warships were seen in the seas near Japan this week, another sign of the apparent pressure the two partners have been exerting on Tokyo as relations deteriorate over Ukraine and Taiwan issues.
Japan’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday that its forces had observed five Russian warships led by an anti-submarine destroyer crossing the Tsushima Strait, which separates Japan from South Korea.
The Russian fleet has been close to the Japanese islands for a week, from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south, the ministry said in a press release.
Meanwhile, at least two Chinese warships and a supply vessel were spotted on Tuesday in the Izu Islands, about 500 kilometers south of the capital Tokyo. One of these ships appeared to be the Lhasa, a guided missile destroyer and one of China’s most powerful surface ships.
The ministry said the group had been operating in waters near Japan since June 12.
“This is an obvious show of strength from Russia and China,” said James Brown, associate professor of political science at Temple University in Tokyo. “These activities are a major concern for Japan. Furthermore, tracking the movements of Russian and Chinese military forces is a strain on Japanese forces.”
There was no claim from Tokyo that the Russian and Chinese naval groups were coordinating their actions, as they did in October last year, when a total of 10 warships from the two countries took part in exercises around much of the Japanese archipelago.
More recently, when Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida hosted a summit of US, Australian and Indian leaders in Tokyo, Chinese and Russian air forces conducted joint strategic air patrols over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea in what the Chinese Defense Ministry called part of an annual military cooperation plan.
Brown said Kishida’s hosting of the summit was just one reason Beijing would like to show its displeasure with Tokyo. “Beijing was irritated by Japanese statements about Taiwan’s security, which the Chinese Communist Party considers a domestic matter,” the professor said.
In fact, it was at that event that President Joe Biden said the US would intervene militarily if China tried to take Taiwan by force. The White House later backtracked on this comment, but the US maintains a powerful military presence in Japan.
Taiwan and China have been ruled separately since the defeated nationalists retreated to the island at the end of China’s civil war more than 70 years ago. But the Chinese Communist Party sees Taiwan as part of its territory.
Beijing has not ruled out the possibility of military force to seize Taiwan, and Japan sees the conflict in the Taiwan Strait as a threat to its security.
Meanwhile, Moscow is angered by Tokyo’s support for Ukraine after Russian forces invaded its European neighbor nearly four months ago, Brown said. That support includes imposing sanctions on Russia and expelling Russian diplomats.
“Russia therefore wants to use its military might to intimidate Japan in the hope that this will prevent Tokyo from imposing further measures,” Brown said. “Japan’s strategic nightmare is a genuine alliance between Russia and China,” said the professor.
Source: CNN Brasil