Tension; Beijing Warns Tokyo Against Modifying Ships to Carry F-35s

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A Chinese news agency responding to Japan’s reported decision to retrofit the JS Izumo helicopter carrier to carry F-35B fighter jets said “making an aggressive move like this may drive the country to repeat its militaristic history.”

The Japanese government reached an agreement to buy 100 F-35s, Nikkei Asian Review reported this week, citing sources. Some of the aircraft to be included in the package are F-35B short takeoff vertical lift fighter jets, which are ideally suited for sea-based operations. In order for Japan to accommodate the F-35B, the Maritime Self-Defense Force would have to retrofit some of its ships.

Upgrading the Izumo-class ships would change them from self-defense assets into tools for military expansion, the Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed on Thursday, as reported by Asia Times.

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The F-35 deal supposedly in the works would increase the number of fifth-generation aircraft destined for the Japanese Self-Defense Force from 42 to 142, Spurstnik reported. Tokyo seeks to modernize half of its aging F-15 fleet while replacing the rest with F-35s. The Nikkei Asian Review report did not specifically indicate that Tokyo has plans to expand its aerial fleet.

On Thursday, sources told Asahi Shimbun that the plan to buy 100 F-35s was “aspirational,” and that the order will more likely be for “around 40 new aircraft.” Yet another unidentified source told CNN Thursday that the deal really will be for 100 F-35s total, 40 of which are F-35B variants.

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Tokyo is expected to release its procurement plans and medium-term defense goals in mid-December.

Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya explained at a Wednesday news briefing that the ministry wants to acquire a “highly competent fighter jet.” Iwaya also confirmed that the ministry is closely studying how to convert one of its 27,000-ton Izumo-class destroyers to carry fighter jets. “Since this is valuable equipment that we already own, I think it would be desirable to use it for as many purposes as possible,” Iwaya said at a news conference Thursday in Tokyo following a cabinet meeting.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry stated that if Tokyo is committed to a military buildup, it can count on thawed bilateral relations getting iced once more, Asia Times reports. “Japan must not forget its infamous history of invading countries and regions in the Asia-Pacific region during the WWII,” China’s Global Times cited experts as saying in a report Thursday.

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“By having the F-35B on its carriers, Japan will be asked to play a bigger role in the US’ global military strategy to the extent that Japan might be able to deploy its troops around the world,” Song Zhongping, a Chinese military analyst, told the news agency.