Govt Investigates Past Sightings of Balloon-like Objects in Japan

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A balloon-like object is seen in the sky over Sendai in June 2020.

The government is investigating past sightings of balloon-like objects in Japan following the takedown by U.S. forces of a suspected Chinese reconnaissance balloon in the United States.

“Investigations [into the incidents] are ongoing, including possible connections with the incident in the United States,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki said at a press conference Monday.

Balloon-like flying objects were spotted in Sendai and other locations in June 2020, and in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, in September 2021, according to Isozaki and other sources.

Isozaki did not answer questions about the response of the Self-Defense Forces on those occasions, citing the classified nature of such information.

If another country’s balloon enters Japanese territorial airspace, it would trigger the same response as an intrusion by an airplane into territorial airspace under international laws.

“Intrusions into Japan’s territorial airspace constitute a violation even if it is a balloon,” Isozaki said. “If necessary, we will take measures including scrambling [ASDF jets].”

Under the Self-Defense Forces Law, if foreign aircraft intrude into territorial airspace, the defense minister can order the SDF to take necessary action, such as forcing the aircraft to land or warning it to leave from Japanese airspace.

Under the law, shoot-down responses such as those against ballistic missiles, cover only falling objects that are “predicted to cause serious damage to people’s lives or assets.”

A reconnaissance balloon does not fall within the boundaries of the law.

“A countermeasure must be considered as soon as possible,” said a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker, expressing concerns shared by others in the party that the number of suspected reconnaissance balloons coming into Japanese territorial airspace will increase in the future.

Regarding the balloon-like objects spotted over Japan in 2020 and 2021, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning said at a press conference Monday, “I don’t know about the situations.”