TOKYO: Japan has warned China that violations of its airspace by surveillance balloons were “totally unacceptable”, as new information emerged that unidentified aerial objects that had entered Japanese airspace in recent years were likely Chinese spy balloon flights.
“As a result of further investigation of specific balloon-shaped flying objects that were confirmed in Japan’s airspace in the past, it is strongly suspected that they were unmanned surveillance balloons from China,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters on Wednesday.
Japan’s defence ministry said on Tuesday that it “strongly suspects” Chinese surveillance balloons had entered Japanese territory at least three times since 2019.
The ministry also said that it had “strongly demanded China’s government confirm the facts” of the incident and “that such a situation not occur again in the future”.
“Violations of airspace by foreign unmanned reconnaissance balloons and other means are totally unacceptable,” the ministry added.
Japan’s government is now considering relaxing requirements on the use of weapons by its armed forces in order to defend against intrusions of its airspace, the Kyodo news agency reported on Wednesday.
Relaxing the rules on engagement would allow Japan to shoot down aerial objects that violate its airspace. Currently, Japanese forces can only open fire in cases of legitimate self-defence or to avoid clear and present danger, Kyodo news agency reported.
Beijing hit back on Wednesday, saying Japan lacked proof to support its accusations.
“Japan is making groundless accusations and smearing China without conclusive evidence. We are resolutely opposed to that,” China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters.
Japan’s reassessment of past intrusions into its airspace has heightened since the United States shot down a Chinese balloon this month and briefed officials from 40 nations about the object, including Japan.
In the wake of the incident, the US military adjusted radar settings to detect smaller objects and discovered three more unidentified craft that US President Joe Biden also ordered shot down, one over Alaska, another over Canada and the third over Lake Huron off Michigan.
Earlier, the United States has released new details about the alleged Chinese “spy” balloon that flew over the country last week, saying the aircraft was “clearly” used to gather intelligence.
The balloon, which was shot down by US forces over the Atlantic Ocean after traversing the continental US, was “capable of conducting signals intelligence collection operations”, a US Department of State official said on Thursday on condition of anonymity. Washington also again refuted Beijing’s claim that the balloon was used for meteorological research and had deviated off its course into US airspace.
“The high altitude balloon’s equipment was clearly for intelligence surveillance and inconsistent with the equipment onboard weather balloons,” the US official said in a written statement.
“It had multiple antennas to include an array likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications. It was equipped with solar panels large enough to produce the requisite power to operate multiple active intelligence collection sensors.”
China has condemned the shooting down of the balloon, which it said was an “unmanned civilian airship”. (Int’l Monitoring Desk)