China's Offshore Military Drills Seen as 'a Show Intended For Japan'

china-japan-july2014.gif Ground crew members of the Chinese Air Force refuel a J-11 fighter jet during a drill at an airbase in Jinan city, east China's Shandong province, July 29, 2014.

China's live-fire military wargames in the East China Sea, which have resulted in massive flight disruptions in and around Shanghai, are purely a form of psychological warfare aimed at Japan, experts said.

Beijing's Ministry of Defense announced the five days of drills that began on Tuesday off the eastern seaboard opposite Japan, sparking a red alert by civil aviation authorities and a partial shutdown of some 19 airports in the region.

Among those affected were Shanghai's two international airports, which have a throughput of tens of thousands of passengers daily.

Live-fire drills are also slated for the Gulf of Tonkin, near Vietnam, and the Bohai Strait and Yellow Sea, opposite Korea, according to official media reports.

But the drills are still largely aimed at showing China's military muscle to Tokyo, Yang Liyu, professor of East Asian Studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, told RFA's Mandarin Service.

"They are showing off their military might, and I think that this is psychological warfare," Yang said.

The moves will feed into growing fears among the international community that President Xi Jinping is aiming for global superpower status, in stark contrast to previous administrations, who have pursued low-key foreign policies.

"Public opinion in the West is increasingly concerned [about Xi Jinping]," Yang said. "Only the day before yesterday, there was an article in the Washington Post saying that Xi Jinping is very hard line."

"The Western media has seen that Xi Jinping is even more formidable and difficult to deal with than [Russian president Vladimir] Putin."

Zhu Yongde, honorary professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, agreed.

"Right now it's all about dealing with Japan," Zhu said.

"There is widespread support for opposition to Japan inside China."

Japan looms so large in Chinese foreign policy

He said Japan looms so large in Beijing's foreign policy that the ruling Chinese Communist Party would make other sacrifices not to be seen as weak on Tokyo, including backing off from territorial disputes over disputed island chains in the South China Sea.

"China is getting ready to put the South China Sea dispute to one side," Zhu said.

Yang said Xi seemed very worried about showing any kind of weakness.

"Of course these military exercises are intended as a warning to Japan;they're aimed at the Japanese," he said.

"They are also a warning to the United States, that China has its own military capability and its own strategic priorities; we're not low-maintenance [any more]."

He said concern in the West has been fueled by the People's Liberation Army's growing missile capabilities.

"China's missile capability is pretty formidable," Yang said. "Its entire defense strategy depends on the Long March rocket."

Tokyo was quick to play down the significance of the drills, however.

"For any country, conducting drills in nearby seas is what they routinely do," Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters on Tuesday.

"We ourselves carry out exercises in a solid manner. We take this as China's routine exercise," he said.

"It is our understanding that this is not the kind of exercise aimed at a particular country or a particular situation."

China is increasingly at loggerheads with Japan over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu island chain, recent visits by Japanese leaders to the Yasukuni Shrine, and an ongoing war of words over Tokyo's past military aggression in East Asia.

Nanjing massacre

Beijing typically holds Germany up as an example of a country that has faced up to the atrocities of its past, while criticizing politicians in Japan who pay respects at war shrines and historians who take issue with international accounts of the 1937 Nanjing Massacre.

China says 300,000 people died as advancing Japanese troops rampaged through the city, while an international military tribunal in 1948 estimated that more than 200,000 Chinese were killed.

Beijing recently applied to have its historical archives on the massacre and the widespread forcing of "comfort women" into prostitution to serve the Japanese military admitted to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

Japan has acknowledged that the Nanjing massacre took place, though its historians say Beijing has inflated the figures.

Beijing's ties with Tokyo have soured over competing claims to a string of uninhabited islets, known as the Diaoyu in China and the Senkaku in Japan, in the East China Sea.

Earlier this month, China removed an oil rig from the disputed Paracel Islands after several confrontations with Vietnamese vessels that had led to collisions, including the ramming of a Vietnamese fishing boat in May by Chinese patrol vessels, which caused it to capsize.

The dispute had lowered relations between China and Vietnam to their worst level since the two communist nations fought a brief border war in 1979.

Violent anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam following the rig deployment had left at least four people dead and the destruction of factories believed to be operated by Chinese companies, though many were Taiwanese-owned.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting rival claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.

Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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