Press Conference

Extra Press Conference by the Defense Minister Onodera(10:34-10:43 A.M. May 25, 2014)

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 10:34-10:43 A.M. May 25, 2014
Place: 1st floor lobby of Building A, Ministry of Defense (MOD)
(This is a provisional translation of an announcement by the Defense Minister and the Q&A session at the subsequent press conference for reference purposes only)
The original text is in Japanese.

1. Announcements
At around 11 a.m. and again at 12 p.m. yesterday, May 24, Chinese Su-27 fighters flew abnormally close to aircraft of the Japan Maritime Self-Force and Air Self-Defense Force over the East China Sea. We already lodged a protest against the Chinese side through diplomatic channels before this announcement. I am concerning that this is dangerous behavior as one small mistake could have led to an accident. Since this is the first time ever for Chinese fighters to fly this close to SDF aircraft, we publicized these abnormal incidents.

2. Questions and Answers

Question:
What do you think the intention and aim of the Chinese military are to make a flight like that, although I understand that you can only speculate on this?

Minister:
We don’t know the intention of the Chinese side given that we were carrying out a normal surveillance flight. However, to say the least, China should not act dangerously like that.

Question:
I suppose that both SDF aircraft involved were aircraft specialized for information gathering. Will this incident affect Japan’s information gathering scheme in any way?

Minister:
We were carrying out a routine information gathering operation above the high seas where there is no restriction on such activity. We will continue our early warning and surveillance operations as they are necessary.

Question:
You stated that it was routine information gathering. However, given that China and Russia are carrying out joint military exercises around that area, can I assume that the SDF was gathering information on the exercises?

Minister:
No, that was not our specific purpose. Besides, these incidents occurred at locations distant from the sea area and airspace where China and Russia indicated for conducting their exercises. So we were just performing our regular surveillance.

Question:
You mentioned that the Chinese aircraft approached the SDF aircraft closer than these aircraft have ever been before. Specifically, how close were they in terms of meters?

Minister:
The Chinese aircraft approached about 50 m away from the MSDF’s OP-3C aircraft, and it came as close as about 30 m to the ASDF’s YS-11EB aircraft. Under these circumstances, the SDF crew members probably felt like the Chinese aircraft were right by them.

Question:
The incident occurred in the overlapping area between Japan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) and the ADIZ China has been one-sidedly claiming. Do you interpret that the Chinese fighters scrambled against the SDF aircraft?

Minister:
Usually, we make a scramble against foreign aircraft approaching Japan’s territorial waters and airspace. However, scrambles are normally implemented against aircraft flying directly toward Japan’s territory, keeping a certain distance from the target aircraft. In this incident, the Chinese fighters radically approached SDF aircraft flying normally above the high seas, which is unthinkable. So the way we see it, the act of the Chinese side so close to our aircraft is completely beyond our comprehension.

Question:
I want to check one thing. Were the SDF aircraft not approaching China’s airspace when those incidents took place?

Minister:
No, that was not the case. We were carrying out surveillance duty as usual.

Question:
I believe that those incidents occurred at 11 a.m. and then at 12 p.m., but the public announcement was made late last night, 12 hours after the incidents. I feel that it took very long before the announcement was made. What actions did the central government take during that time period?

Minister:
After those incidents occurred, the relevant MOD and SDF staff waited for the crew members to come back, conducted a hearing with them, and analyzed various information such as photographs in order to understand exactly what happened. The staff concluded that those situations were in fact very dangerous and reported to us. We then held an emergency meeting at the MOD last night. After the meeting, we reported to the Prime Minister about the incidents and staged a protest through diplomatic channels. After completing the protest, we made the incidents public last night.

Question:
When you reported to the Prime Minister, did he give you any instruction?

Minister:
He told us to continue our duties in a steadfast manner.

Question:
In response to these incidents, did the SDF’s fighter unit take any actions?

Minister:
When we face incidents that are considered to be abnormal or that require precaution and surveillance, we normally make scrambles. We took necessary response measures this time.

Question:
Minister Onodera, I am concerned that Chinese fighters may continue to take dangerous actions, such as flying extremely close to SDF aircraft like this time, in the area where the two ADIZs are overlapping. What measures will the SDF take to deal with this issue?

Minister:
We have been carrying out early warning and surveillance that are necessary to firmly defend Japan’s territorial lands, waters and airspace. Besides, our aircraft used for those duties are not fighters. It is unacceptable that the Chinese fighters make a dangerously close flight towards Japan’s aircraft that were performing surveillance in the same manner as any other country.

Question:
You stated that the Japanese government conducted a protest against China via diplomatic channels. Has the Chinese side responded to the protest so far?

Minister:
We expect that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will carry out appropriate protests through diplomatic channels.

Question:
You mentioned that military aircraft approaching as close as 30 to 50 m to another aircraft is considered to be abnormal. What distance is generally considered to be safe according to the standard rules?

Minister:
There are no specific rules concerning the distance to be kept between two flying aircraft in terms of international laws. However, when military aircraft of any country approach another aircraft, it normally keeps a certain distance in order to avoid contingencies. The SDF often take photographs from airborne aircraft to capture peculiar incidences and publicize them. But it does so while maintaining a certain safe distance. If an aircraft nears another aircraft to the extent that is threatening, that is not normal conduct.

Question:
Could you tell us more specifically the locations where the incidents took place?

Minister:
The incidents took place in the overlapping area between Japan’s and China’s ADIZs over the East China Sea.

Question:
You stated that the SDF was conducting routine information gathering. Was there any difference in this operation compared to previous operations in terms of the flight routes or flight performance and such when the Chinese fighters approached dangerously close to the SDF aircraft?

Minister:
When we send SDF aircraft for regular surveillance, they do not fly over the same route every time. However, our aircraft were flying in non-restricted areas to say the least.

Question:
Did the Chinese fighters exhibit any menacing or unusual behavior in addition to flying extremely close to the SDF aircraft?

Minister:
Based on the testimony of the SDF crew members, the Chinese fighters were loaded with missiles. Also, I was informed that the crew dealt with the situation in an extremely tense atmosphere.

Question:
Did the Chinese fighters lock fire-control radar on the SDF aircraft by any chance?

Minister:
That did not happen.

Question:
Can I assume that the Prime Minister instructed to launch a protest against the Chinese side through diplomatic channels?

Minister:
We lodged a protest via diplomatic channels upon obtaining the Prime Minister’s approval to do so and then holding a discussion with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Question:
You mentioned earlier that the Prime Minister instructed you to steadily deal with this issue. Besides that, did he express any reaction to the fact that the Chinese fighters approached extremely close to the SDF aircraft?

Minister:
Since our conversation took place at a very unusual time of the day, I gave him a report on the incident in a concise manner.

(End)

-PAGE TOP-