From the Japanese weekly magazine “Shukan Bunshun“; February 21, 2013; By Satoshi Tomizaka. Translation by a JSW/ASW pal. 

(Regarding this incident here.)

Who is responsible for the Chinese Navy’s radiation of Fire Control Radar (FCR)?

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs broke their silence on 8 February and released a statement in countering Japan’s accusation of a FCR lock-on by stating, “Japan twisted the truth and released the ‘one-sided’ information.”

That same day, an affiliate of PLA lamented as he shared, “Of course we did it…”  He continued, as he sighed, “We knew the full scale of the incident shortly after Japan announced the radar projection incident.  Naturally, we knew that the radar used was not a warning control system either and understood who gave the orders to radiate the FCR and why.  The individuals responsible aren’t trying to hide any details about this incident.  The only issue the senior officers had to deal with was the fact that these individuals were not violating any military regulation, nor did they violate any direct orders.  Basically, no one told them that they could NOT use the FCR, so the only thing the Chinese government could do in this case was to deny all accusations.  Of course, the government fully understands how internationally dangerous and insane this action was but they can’t acknowledge that…”

– Radiating FCR warrants a missile attack in return

Naturally, China’s ruling leadership were also fully aware of the severity of this action.  A Chinese foreign diplomat shared, “The Foreign Relations Department was mortified and in sheer panic mode.  When the Foreign Ministry spokesperson was asked if China was not aware of this incident, the spokesperson answered after a long silence, ‘That is a safe assumption.’  Judging from the attitude the spokesperson displayed, there was frustration in the Foreign Ministry, especially knowing that the PLA probably did not consult them in advance.”

In fact, there is an overt disregard towards the Foreign Ministry by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).  With China’s fundamental concept of “power comes from the gun muzzle” the PLA has unwavering power in the nation.  In China, the military is sacred and are protected by privileges and immunities, which give them the right to do whatever they deem appropriate.  It is not unusual that the Foreign Ministry is not aware of the PLA’s activities.

In 1995 while China was in diplomatic negotiations with the Philippines, the PLA began constructing a building on one of the reefs the two nations were in dispute over.  The Philippine government strongly protested, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry had to rush to verify the incident.  Essentially, the Chinese Foreign Ministry does not have a clue over what the PLA is doing.

So, who is responsible the FCR projection incident?

A PLA affiliate shared the truth, “The FCR projection was directed by the People’s Liberation Army Navy [PLA-(N)].  Their chain-of-command was not aware of their decision.  The order was given by the vice commander (VC) via the Chief of Staff (CoS).  The CoS was promoted to his current position when the VC assumed his post.  They have been very close throughout their careers and were fully aware of the implications of their decisions — the intent was to increase tension between Japan.  There wasn’t an intention to cause tension to the central party or to their chain-of-command, but to conduct a ‘heroic act’.  From their perspective, they rightfully did what they needed to do.  Regardless what their intentions, their actions do not reflect the intent of the central government — the PLA(N) has always been much more aggressive than the government.”

The PLA(N)’s position in the military chain-of-command is not equivalent to the structure of other foreign armed services.  While the Air/Ground/Navy forces are all equivalent in the power structure in foreign nations, that is not the case in China.  The Army has the ultimate power within PLA and the Navy is merely a part of that organization.  There are four departments in the Army which function as the “control tower” in PLA: the General Staff, General Political Department, General Logistics Department, and General Armaments Department.  Essentially, the Army General Staff decides what missions the Navy will take, and although the Navy has its own strategic department, their existence is merely an extension of the big Army plans office.

However, that does not mean that the PLA(N) does not have any discretionary power.  Ordinarily, the highest decision making agency is the civilian leadership, the Central Military Commission (CMC) — naturally, Xi Jinping is at the top of that hierarchy.  The CMC’s military policy is objectified/developed and orders given throughout the military via the General Staff Department.  However, detailed orders are not given at the field level.  On top of that, if the “field” is the East China Sea (ECS), it is critical in PLA’s eyes to maintain a firm stance against Japan, so if an action was taken to demonstrate a “strong China”, then such act does not warrant punishment — in fact, it warrants commendation.  Basically, there is a huge gap in the understanding of such act internationally and domestically.

PLA has the image of demonstrating unwavering loyalty to the Communist Party, but some experts analyze that a growing laxity in discipline is causing serious issues.  The prime example used to prove that point is the EP-3 incident, which occurred in 2001.  A mid-air collision between a U.S. Navy EP-3E intelligence aircraft and a PLA(N) interceptor fighter jet occurred when the PLA(N) jet flew too close to the EP-3E while flying in the vicinity of the Hainan Island.

A Japan Self Defense Force affiliate commented, “This was an unfathomable incident that shook the world.  The cause of the incident was the Chinese becoming too hot-headed and lacking rational thought-process in their decisions.  But that was not the biggest concern back then.  The U.S. government was concerned about this incident going out of control, so they called the hot line to get in touch with then-General Secretary of the Communist Party, Jiang Zemin, but he found reasons to not take the call for over eight hours.  Essentially, the PLA conducted an act without the endorsement of their government, so the government was scrambling to figure out how to deal with the situation, and was in sheer panic mode.”

The Chinese government is always facing unexpected political challenges with PLA.  A former member of the State Council pointed out the risks of being at the mercy PLA’s fundamentalist nature and anti-Japan sentiment, “The VC who ordered the FCR projection is not happy with the government’s temporizing stance towards Japan.  This individual is a dedicated military senior officer, who is not involved in side businesses like other high ranking officials in PLA — he prides in his clean career and is a frightful stiff … which those surrounding him find it troublesome.  Although it may not make sense, if the VC had something (corrupt) to hide — like other officials profiting from the government — the government would have more control over him.  If he was profiting from international peace, he wouldn’t jeopardize that.  However, he does not have any other interest than his military career — which could make him that much more risky.”

It may be inevitable for PLA(N) to believe in having a strong stance against Japan, as they routinely face Japan in the ECS … not to mention their historically strong victim mentality towards Japan.

A former JSDF member who served as a Defense Attache shared, “The PLA(N) does not have much history of operating in the high seas, so they’re not familiar with how to face a foreign military.  Therefore, their ‘country cousin’ actions are often caused due to lack of experience and understanding of the internationally-accepted protocols of the sea.  For example, if they conduct an exercise in the vicinity of Japanese waters, naturally, JMSDF will monitor their every move — yet they become quite agitated and complain, ‘Why does JMSDF have to follow us every where?’  Japan is doing everything right by international norms, but since China doesn’t understand the basic concept of operations at sea, their level of frustration is increasing daily.”

The controversial act of the PLA(N) — especially the FCR incident — has received criticisms, even within internal Chinese government.  On 7 Feb, Li Keqiang — anticipated to be the next President — met with the executives of the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) to exchange thoughts and opinions.  SOA is an organization that dispatches ocean surveillance ships which often violate Japan territorial waters; but during this exchange of opinion, these members actually complained about the recent aggressive acts of PLA(N).  However, the same logic does not apply to waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands, because in their view, those islands are rightfully China’s — so aggressive actions taken around the Senkaku Islands are justified from their standpoint.

Essentially, there’s no crime in taking actions out of patriotic fervor.  The bottom line is, the Communist Party no longer has strong control over the PLA — and that fact alone should concern all, because even if Japan continues to avoid conflict with China, their fundamental views and “patriotism” may escalate the tension between the two nations.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 536 post(s) on Japan Security Watch