Japan is considering loosening the rules for using force against foreign balloons that have been seen flying over the country in recent years, according to the nation’s defense ministry. Under the current regulations, the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF) are only authorized to shoot down foreign objects in self-defense or in times of emergency, reported Japanese broadcaster NHK.
At a meeting on February 15, the ministry proposed that Japan’s military be allowed to use weapons against intrusive objects, as the SDF law allows for “necessary measures” to be taken against foreign aircraft that intrude Japan’s airspace. Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada also declared on February 14 that the military can take necessary measures to bring down foreign balloons violating Japan’s airspace in order to protect the country’s citizens. Hamada said the military would be allowed to use weapons, including air-to-air missiles, against foreign balloons in accordance with the SDF law.
The recent downing of a Chinese surveillance balloon by the U.S. military has brought attention to the fact that similar objects had been spotted flying over Japan in previous years. On Tuesday, the Japanese defense ministry said that unidentified flying objects seen in Japan between 2019 and 2021 are “strongly presumed” to be unmanned reconnaissance balloons flown by China. Tokyo contacted Beijing to verify the incidents and demanded that such incursions never occur again. The Chinese foreign ministry acknowledged Japan’s claims, adding that “Japan needs to be objective and impartial” on the matter.
Taiwan also claimed to have detected Chinese balloons flying over the self-ruled island last year and vowed to take appropriate measures against new threats, including shooting them down, based on the level of concern.
Defense Minister Hamada also announced on Tuesday that Japan plans to bulk-order Tomahawk cruise missiles from the United States by March next year as it begins its rapid military build-up. The ship-launched version of the munition, which can fly more than 621 miles, would have enough range to hit targets inside China. Japan’s latest defense budget, which will be 25% higher than last year, includes $1.6 billion to buy cruise missiles, part of its biggest military build-up since World War II.
Japan’s move is widely seen as a departure from its post-war constitution, which renounces war or the use of force in settling international disputes. However, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that Japan would maintain its exclusively defense-oriented policy, which states that defensive force could only be used in the event of an attack.