In what appeared to be a serious escalation of the ongoing dispute over possession of the Senkaku islands, the Japanese government announced that in January Chinese naval frigates had twice “painted” a Japanese ship and helicopter with their fire-control radar. China denied the allegations.
These claims and counter-claims clearly ratcheted up the tension. But despite considerable anxiety in the media, one person doesn’t seem worried in the slightest. Toshio Tamogami, a former general in the Air Self-Defense Force who was forced into retirement in 2008 for publishing politically incorrect views in a magazine article, tells Shukan Asahi Geino (Feb 28) why he’s not overly concerned.
First, he says in a somewhat long-winded technical explanation with lots of megahertz frequencies thrown in for good measure, fire control radar is less advanced than another type—phased array radar—that’s become the standard among the world’s navies.
More important, the chances of a maverick sailor starting a shooting war by accident are slim to none, since to launch offensive missiles, it’s necessary to go though a fail-safe series of procedures involving two or three crew members.
Still, we have to consider why the Chinese vessels allegedly engaged in provocative acts in the first place.
While some media have overreacted by reporting that China is now on a “war footing”—or expressions to that effect—Tamogami says that no one is more aware of this than the Chinese government, which at the present stage harbors no desire to wage war.
First of all, he emphasizes, if China were to be seriously considering escalating the current face-off to armed conflict, it’s going to need from three to six months to mobilize. Moreover, if such a crisis were to be imminent, unmistakable changes would be occurring, such as reassigning squadrons of fighter planes and naval ships. Likewise for buildup of rear-echelon logistics. Presently, China shows no indications of such moves.
“Nor from seeing the faces of Chinese in the news do I get the impression of anything out of the ordinary,” Tamogami remarks. Another indication of moves to a belligerent state would be a surge in electronic “chatter,” indicating military forces preparing to move. Presently no deviation from the ordinary has been observed.
Granted, last October the Chinese navy conducted exercises in the East China Sea—the largest scale in many years. But these were held at the squadron level and did not involve the entire navy. Actually, China has never conducted naval exercises involving its entire fleet.
“But the TV news and wide shows keep issuing scary reports because they’re trying to boost their ratings,” says Tamogami, who adds that even when a member of Japan’s military is brought before the cameras and asked to comment, he’s invariably obliged to parrot the TV network’s stance and therefore unable to air his true feelings.
“Unless a decision is made by China’s central government, war will absolutely not occur. If, in the unlikely event an exchange of fire should happen in the Senkakus between China and Japan, this will not be viewed as ‘war’ so much as a ‘dispute.’”
Tamogami asserts that a low-level skirmish would not escalate into full-scale war.
“What would be the advantage, for China, to go to war against Japan?” he asks. “As I have said previously, the Chinese military in its present state could not win against Japan.” He describes China’s military as a “mishmash of odds and ends.”
So the worst thing China could do to itself, he says, would be to decide to “defend the Senkakus” from Japan, since this would oblige it to go on a war footing.
“Under the current conditions, I hereby declare war will absolutely not occur,” Tamogami asserts, adding his view that the Japanese government must absolutely not cower from threats.
“If I were able to see real harbingers of war, I would certainly sound the alarm,” he concludes.