Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party has approved a proposal to ease restrictions on the military use of weapons against unmanned aircraft that violate Japanese airspace. The proposal, which was put forward by the Ministry of Defense on Thursday, would allow Japan’s Self-Defense Force (SDF) to shoot down foreign balloons and drones to protect the lives of citizens. Currently, SDF law allows “necessary measures” to be taken against foreign aircraft that invade Japan’s airspace, but the use of weapons is only allowed in cases of legitimate self-defense or an act of necessity.
The proposed policy would permit the use of weapons against drones and balloons that pose a hazard to civil air traffic, even if doing so does not constitute legitimate self-defense, according to The Yomiuri Shimbun. The ministry stated that it would take into account the safety of citizens and civilian aircraft flights before approving any use of weaponry against unmanned aircraft under the new policy. Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada has said the military would be allowed to use weapons, including air-to-air missiles, against foreign balloons that violated Japan’s airspace in accordance with the SDF law.
Japan reported three Chinese balloon incursions, which the ministry revealed on Feb. 14. The first balloon was spotted on Nov. 20, 2019, in Kagoshima prefecture, the second on June 17, 2020, in Miyagi prefecture, and the third on Sept. 3, 2021, in Aomori prefecture. Japanese Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said that such violations of its airspace are unacceptable and that Japan is strongly demanding that China’s communist regime verify the facts of the situation and make sure it doesn’t happen again. The Chinese foreign ministry acknowledged Japan’s claims, but noted that “Japan needs to be objective and impartial” on the matter.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on the same day that the United States was sharing intelligence with dozens of countries after it discovered that China’s spy balloon program had targeted at least 40 nations. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Feb. 13 that the spy balloon program was connected to China’s military and had targeted the United States’ “closest allies and partners,” a designation that typically includes Japan.
Taiwan said on Thursday (Feb. 16) that it found the remains of a probable crashed weather balloon, likely from China, near Dongyin island, part of the Taiwan-controlled Matsu archipelago off the coast of China’s Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian Province. Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said the ministry has dispatched a team to investigate the crashed balloon. Defense ministry spokesperson Sun Li-fang told Bloomberg on Feb. 13 that Taiwan will adopt appropriate measures against new threats, including shooting threats down, based on the level of concern.
Reuters and Andrew Thornebrooke contributed to this report.