Japan Monitoring China-Russia Military 'Show of Force' Around Country

Japan says it's monitoring an ongoing "show of force" by the Chinese and Russian navies, whose warships have sailed in a circle around the country in recent weeks.

The seemingly coordinated operations by China's People's Liberation Army Navy and the Russian Navy's Pacific Fleet have not been officially acknowledged by either Beijing or Moscow. Tokyo, meanwhile, has published regular updates about ship movements off Japanese islands.

Between June 15 and 21, between five and seven Russian warships sailed in a southwesterly direction along southern Japan before returning north via the Sea of Japan, the Japanese Defense Ministry said in a tweet on Tuesday. From June 12 to 21, a flotilla of Chinese naval vessels, numbering between three and four, also circumnavigated Japan from the northwest.

Another two PLA Navy surface action groups, numbering two to five, sailed between the East China Sea and the Western Pacific from June 21 and 24, said the statement, which was accompanied by two illustrations showing the movements of the Chinese and Russian vessels.

According to the ministry, the first group of Chinese ships sailed through the Miyako Strait, an international waterway between the Japanese islands of Miyako and Okinawa, where the balance of the 50,000 or so forward-deployed U.S. forces in Japan are stationed. The second surface group made the rare choice to sail in the 70-mile-wide corridor between Japan's westernmost island of Yonaguni and Taiwan.

China, Russia Warships Circumnavigate Japan
A map published by Japan’s Defense Ministry on June 28, 2022, illustrates the movements of Chinese warships around Japanese islands since mid-June 2022. Ministry of Defense, Japan

"This is a display of military presence around Japan and can be considered a show of force," the ministry's statement said, echoing concerns articulated last week by Japanese Defense Ministry Nobuo Kishi.

Separately, the office of Japan's Joint Staff reported one Chinese warship sailing between the uninhabited Izu Islands, south of Tokyo, on Sunday. The constant presence since mid-June is the longest since China and Russia announced a 10-ship joint patrol around Japan in October 2021.

The Japanese government under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced its intention to play a more active role in preserving regional security in light of what Tokyo sees as challenges posed by an increasingly aligned Beijing and Moscow, especially since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Japan has territorial disputes with both China and Russia, the former over the Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea; the latter over the Kuril Islands or Northern Territories separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the Northern Pacific.

China, Russia Warships Circumnavigate Japan
Japan’s Defense Ministry has reported coordinated naval patrols by Chinese and Russian naval vessels around Japanese islands since mid-June 2022. Pictured, the Type 052D guided-missile destroyer Guiyang of China’s People's Liberation Army Navy participates in a naval parade near Qingdao, Shandong, on April 23, 2019. MARK SCHIEFELBEIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

In May, while President Joe Biden was visiting Tokyo, Chinese and Russian strategic bombers flew a joint patrol around Japan in another unmistakable show of force during a leaders' summit of the Quad nations—the United States, Japan, India and Australia.

Kishida arrived in Germany over the weekend for the start of the Group of Seven summit at Schloss Elmau, and will also be the first Japanese leader to attend the NATO summit, scheduled to be held in Madrid between June 28 and 30.

The G7 leaders endorsed stronger language against China and Russia, and for the regional status quo in Asia and Europe, in their communique on Tuesday. NATO leaders are expected to release a similarly firm rebuke of both Beijing and Moscow on Thursday.

In the meantime, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force is gearing up for the biennial Rim of the Pacific Exercise—or RIMPAC—which begins with the navies of 26 nations on Wednesday and will last through August 4.