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Chinese Spy Ballon and Japan


On February 4th, a US F-22 fighter jet shot down a Chinese “surveillance balloon” 11 kilometers off the coast of South Carolina. 


A similar balloon was spotted over Japan in June 2020. 


Some people wondered why Japan didn’t shoot down the Chinese spy balloon as the US did. 


Under Article 84 of the Self-Defense Forces Law, the Self-Defense Forces can take necessary measures when foreign aircraft violate international law, Civil Aeronautics Law, or other regulations and enter Japanese airspace.


I served as Japan’s Defense Minister when the Chinese spy balloon was spotted over Japan in June 2020. When deciding what to do, we conducted a detailed analysis of where the balloon was coming from and what they looked like. At that time, the balloon was a public safety concern rather than an airspace violation, and thus the Miyagi Prefecture Police dispatched a helicopter. 


Although the balloon incident earlier this month drew attention because the US shot down the balloon, the US revealed that similar balloon spottings have occurred in the past, including three times during the Trump administration and once more during the Biden administration. 


The US government assessed and announced that the spy balloon was flying at altitudes far beyond civilian airspace and posed no military or physical threat to Americans on land. The US government further concluded that, from a Chinese intelligence perspective, the spy balloon added limited value compared to other Chinese satellites that spied on the US. 


Still, the Biden administration deemed the Chinese spy balloon “an irresponsible act that was a clear violation of sovereignty and international law” and ordered the shooting down on February 1st. The US government carried out the shooting three days later, on February 4th. 


In 2020, the US Department of Defense released footage taken by a navy pilot that seemed to capture a UFO sighting. The footage went viral. 


In August 2020, then-Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper decided that if the footage really did capture an extraterrestrial UFO, there was no need to worry. If it were an object or device of another country, though, Secretary Esper made it clear that the US must respond accordingly. 

Following the US incident, on September 14, 2020, the Japanese Self-Defense Force issues a report from the Defense Ministry on “Concerning Unidentified Flying Objects.” 


At the time, I admit I found it ridiculous that the Self-Defense Force was responding to UFO concerns. In hindsight, this surely raised public awareness of unidentified objects in the air. 


In September 2021, after I retired from my position as Minister of Defense, a balloon similar to the one spotted over Japan in 2020 was discovered.  Just recently, in January 2022, the Self-Defense Forces spotted another similar balloon over the high seas west of Kyushu.


Now that the US has concluded that the balloon is a Chinese spy vehicle, the next time a similar balloon is discovered over Japan, the Self-Defense Force will take action in accordance with Article 84 of the SDF Law against airspace violation.

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