Balloons Suspected to Be Chinese Spotted in Japan Airspace 3 Times

Courtesy of Sendai City Astronomical Observatory
An object flies over Sendai in June 2020.

Unmanned Chinese surveillance balloons are “strongly suspected” to have flown in Japan’s airspace three times since November 2019, the Japanese government has announced.

The government on Tuesday demanded through diplomatic channels that the Chinese government confirm the facts and take measures to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents. It told the Chinese side that Japan will never tolerate intrusions into its airspace.

According to the Defense Ministry, it has been confirmed that flying objects believed to be unmanned Chinese surveillance balloons flew in Japanese airspace over Kagoshima Prefecture in November 2019, Miyagi Prefecture in June 2020 and Aomori Prefecture in September 2021.

Because the shape of the flying objects resembled the Chinese spy balloon shot down on Feb. 4 in the United States, the ministry investigated the connection with those spotted over Japan, in cooperation with the United States.

Also, in January 2022, a balloon of unidentified origin was confirmed to be flying over the open sea off western Kyushu.

Under the Self-Defense Law, if a foreign aircraft intrudes into Japan’s airspace, the defense minister can order the Self-Defense Forces to make the aircraft land or take other necessary actions to get it to leave Japanese airspace.

If a surveillance balloon enters the airspace over Japan, the government plans to take the same kind of action dictated under international law to deal with intrusions by aircraft.

Ahead of the government’s announcement Tuesday, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada described at a press conference on the day the response to a foreign balloon intruding into Japanese airspace.

“SDF aircraft are allowed to use weapons, including air-to-air missiles” fired by fighter jets, Hamada said, referring to the possibility of shooting down such a balloon under the SDF law.