Chinese naval ships have already trained their weapons on a Japanese destroyer and a Japanese naval helicopter.
In these incidents, the single most important reason for Japanese restraint has been its military’s own rules of engagement.
Under current law, Japanese security forces are forbidden from firing their weapons unless clearly fired upon, which means that the country’s Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels can do little when targeted by Chinese naval radar.
Revising such rules to allow Japan’s military to, say, destroy a North Korean missile before it reaches Japanese air space would increase the risk of conflict between Chinese and Japanese naval and air forces.
If the Chinese leadership can think beyond its usual default response to North Korean misbehavior –– abstract condemnation followed by a call for dialogue –– it can apply real pressure on the North Korean regime in full view of the international community.
North Korea’s last ally should give it one last chance, and then it should be prepared to pull the plug.
Steve Tsang is a professor of contemporary Chinese studies and director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham.
Copyright: Project Syndicate