The Japanese Defense Ministry reported that between April and June the Air Self-Defense Force scrambled jets 235 times against approaching Russian aircraft, a sevenfold jump from a year ago.
Over the same period, Japan scrambled jets against Chinese aircraft 104 times, up 51% from a year ago, but down from 128 in the prior quarter. A sign of backing off the cliff? Not sure.
China is Japan’s largest trading partner. Economically they’re joined at the hip, whether they want to or not. But they’re also tangled up in a “dispute” over what the Japanese call the Senkaku Islands — “dispute” in quotes because Japan insists that there is no “dispute,” the islands being simply Japanese. At first when it re-erupted in 2012, it appeared to be a spat that, like others before it, would be put back in the dirty-underwear drawer after sufficient commotion, unresolved, but out of sight, where it would be kept for the next generation to deal with. And the current generation could just do business.
Instead, it has turned into a cat-and-mouse affair involving aircraft and ships that has become part of China’s growing territorial assertiveness. This time, China doesn’t want it to go back into the dirty underwear drawer.
Not to be left out, and to avoid disappearing from the international attention docket, North Korea has fired off missiles for “test” purposes and threatened to conduct a fourth nuclear test.
In total, Japan scrambled jets 340 times in the quarter, an all-time record.
A spokesman of the Defense Ministry refused to speculate on why Russian activity had suddenly soared to such an extent, just when energy-starved Japan and energy-rich Russia are trying to hash out big plans for a mega-energy deal, including possibly a Japan-financed under-water pipeline.
Stock and bond markets have totally ignored any and all signs of this growing instability and saber-rattling in the region. They live in a different world.