A Chinese naval flotilla, led by a powerful destroyer, has circumnavigated Japan's main island for 12 days in a show of military strength as tensions over Taiwan simmer and Japan prepares to welcome G7 leaders the following week.
Japan's Defense Ministry released a map on Thursday showing the Type 055 Guided Missile Destroyer Lhasa leading a four ship flotilla which included a smaller destroyer as well as a frigate, and a supply vessel on a clockwise circumnavigation.
The Japanese map shows that the journey began on April 30th in the Tsushima strait between South Korea & Japan, then progressed to the Tsugaru strait at the northern end of Hokkaido May 5 & 6, and finally was in Izu Island chain south of Tokyo Thursday.
China's state run Global Times published a report Thursday after the Japanese Defense Ministry released a statement. The article linked the flotilla journey to "Japan's provocative remarks" about Taiwan, a democratically ruled Island over which the Chinese Communist Party has claimed sovereignty, despite having never ruled it.
The Global Times reported, citing Chinese expert, that 'while the voyage is probably a routine PLA Naval far sea exercise, which does not violate any law international or target any other third party, it can be seen as sending a strong signal to Japan'.
In an interview with Nikkei Asia, the Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated that the peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait was critical for not only our country but also for the entire international community.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Haashi said on Wednesday that Tokyo sent a protest message to Beijing in response to comments made by China's Ambassador, who claimed that Japan would 'be dragged into the flame' if it linked Taiwan with its own security.
Hayashi, in an exclusive interview on CNN Wednesday, said that Japan was in discussions to open the first NATO liaison office in Asia. He added that Russia's invasion in Ukraine had far-reaching repercussions beyond Europe's border and had forced Tokyo's regional security to be re-thought.
Hayashi stated that although we are in discussion, no details have been finalized.
Tensions increase before G7 summit
As the leaders of the Group of Seven begin to prepare for their meeting in Japan on May 19, this Chinese circumnavigation is also taking place.
Chinese naval flotillas circumnavigated Japan in the past, most notably a Chinese and Russian flotilla consisting of 10 ships in October 2021. Analysts say that more is to come as the PLA Navy flexes more of its muscles outside China’s near waters.
Analysts are concerned about the timing and the route of the exercise in relation to the media reports.
The Chinese state media has a motive to turn this into a display of force by tying the PLAN surface-action group's route to Kishida’s remarks on Taiwan. This is what is most concerning, said John Bradford. He is a senior fellow at Singapore's S. Rajaratman School of International Studies.
He added that 'delivering these types of threats undermines further confidence and increases regional tensions'.
James Brown, professor at Temple University, Japan, who teaches political science, says that the timing of Chinese naval activity prior to the G7 summit of Hiroshima, is crucial.
Brown stated that the Japanese will link the issue with security in East Asia.
Prime Minister Kishida will likely reiterate his message, that "Ukraine today can be East Asia tomorrow." Brown explained that by 'East Asia', he meant the possibility of China attacking Taiwan.
The Chinese display of force was intended to discourage Japan from enhancing security cooperation with other Western partners and the United States. He said that it is more likely to have the opposite effect.