China is likely to express concerns about the U.S. deployment in Japan of a radar system that can track Chinese anti-ship missiles that are the linchpin of plans to keep the U.S. Navy away from its territorial waters.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has insisted that the radar system will be deployed to guard against the missile threat posed by the rogue regime in North Korea, which has hundreds of ballistic missiles and a rudimentary nuclear weapons program.
Though there was no immediate reaction from China on Monday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry expressed concern about the deployment, which was announced in Tokyo by Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto and Mr. Panetta. The defense secretary is on a 10-day trip to the Asia-Pacific region that also will take him to China and New Zealand.
Russian state media and Chinese commentators have linked the missile defense issue with the ongoing friction between Japan and China over a disputed island chain, which has prompted anti-Japanese riots across China.
The U.S.-Japan decision to deploy the radar flows from North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile in April and the fact that the international community has failed to stop Pyongyang’s missile program, said Mr. Schoff, who left the Pentagon over the summer and is now a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
He noted that the U.S. in April had to sail a sea-borne radar from Hawaii to help monitor the North Korean launch, track the missile and if necessary provide Aegis missile cruisers with the coordinates to shoot it down.
“The reason [the new radar] is being deployed is because the Japanese are increasingly alarmed about North Korea’s missile capability,” said Timothy Brown, a senior fellow at the think tank GlobalSecurity.org.
Both analysts noted that U.S. officials have publicly gone out of their way to assure the Chinese that the new radar deployment is not directed against them.
“U.S. policy is not to develop missile defense systems that would negate China or Russia’s strategic deterrent,” said Mr. Schoff, noting that “geography and physics” make the southern Japanese location touted for the new radar optimal for defending against North Korean launches, but much less useful for defending against China-based launches.
However, Mr. Brown said the real Chinese concern is not for the effectiveness of their strategic arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles, but that the radar also could be used against their anti-ship ballistic missiles. These “carrier killers” are, for the Chinese military, the key to their plan to prevent U.S. naval power from deploying near its waters.
The origins of this strategy, Mr. Brown said, lie in the humiliation China’s military felt during the 1995 Taiwan crisis, when a U.S. aircraft carrier battle group deployed in the Taiwan Strait forced Beijing to back down in its dispute with the U.S.-backed breakaway province.
The Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles are “designed to prevent that ever happening again,” Mr. Brown said.