Japanese alarm at rise in Russian military activity

By Julian Ryall in Tokyo
Last Updated: 5:50PM BST 05 Sep 2008

Japan has warned of an increasing Russian military presence in North-East Asia, with additional exercises and incursions into Japanese territory in the last 12 months by naval and airborne forces.

Tokyo’s annual white paper on defence underlined the instability in the region by adding a resurgent Russia to the traditional threats to peace posed by China and North Korea.

Released on Friday, The Defence of Japan 2008 expresses particular concern over Moscow’s muscle-flexing in the region, pointing out that it comes at a time of heightened tension with the West over Georgia.

“Russian military operations seem to be increasingly more active in the vicinity of Japan, including exercises and training, in association with the recovery of troop skill levels,” the 425-page report states. “These are trends that require close monitoring.”

The study cites an increase in the number of exercises and patrols by warships of the Vladivostock-based Russian Pacific Fleet, including nuclear-powered submarines, and long-range aircraft.

On February 9th, aircraft of the Japan Air Self-Defence Forces were scrambled to intercept a Tu-95MS Bear bomber within Japanese air space over the Izu chain of islands, south of Tokyo. It was the first time a Russian military aircraft had been detected operating in the area since 1975.

“I think the renewed Russian presence in areas close to Japan has come as a surprise to the Defence Ministry here, but the feeling is still that the largest threat to stability is from China and North Korea,” said defence analyst Hisao Yuwashima.

And while it is the amount of money that China is investing in expanding and modernising the three arms of its military, it is the sheer unpredictability of the North Korean regime that keeps that Japanese military on its toes, he said.

“Pyongyang says it is restarting its nuclear programme and already has relatively advanced ballistic missile technology,” he said. “The best thing would be for Kim Jong Il to be overthrown or replaced and the country then normalise its relations with neighbouring countries.”

The defence report does not comment on whether that might be a possibility in the near future, but does point out that with the nuclear know-how that Kim’s scientists will have learned, they might be in a position to develop small nuclear warheads in a relatively short period of time.

The report also repeated its call for China to be more transparent on the amount it is spending annually on defence, which Beijing officially put at US$60 billion for 2008, a double-digit percentage growth for the 20th consecutive year.

“This pace of increase in official defence expenditures means that the defence budget increases two-fold every five years,” the report notes. The implication is that not all of Beijing’s spending on its military has been declared, a charge that China has dismissed in the past.

The regime’s development of a submarine capable of launching ballistic missiles with a range of 8,000 km is also of concern, along with the successful testing of a laser system able to destroy satellites in orbit.

“China appears to have an interest in cyber warfare and appears to be organising and training a specialised cyber warfare department,” the white paper said.

Taiwan is the key military concern for the Chinese authorities, while it also has a territorial dispute with Japan over the Sankaku Islands in the East China Sea. The white paper adds that Tokyo has ongoing territorial disputes with Russia, South Korea and Taiwan, but describes all the islands involved as “integral parts of Japanese territory.”

source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/

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