Last week, a privately-owned hot air balloon from China went down into the East China Sea, just south of the disputed Senkaku Islands. The pilot was quickly rescued and that should have been the end of that.
While the cooperation of the Japanese, Taiwanese, and Chinese agencies’ efforts in rescuing Xu Shuaijun is to be commended, this incident should have the Japanese Defense Ministry worried.
Although the flight has been disassociated from the Chinese government, with the pilot described simply as a “balloon enthusiast,” it remains that an aircraft launched from China flew more than 220 miles directly for Japanese soil, and was never detected by the Japanese military. This balloon was not equipped with stealth technology (although the propane tanks and burners do provide a small radar cross-section), did not fly at low altitudes, and did not fly at night when observation would be difficult.
Instead, the balloon was launched at 7am, flew at altitudes of more than ten thousand feet, and spent more than six hours cruising towards Japanese territory in a giant, rainbow-colored balloon.
Nearly 30 years ago a young German man named Mathias Rust landed a Cessna on Moscow’s Red Square — and inadvertently gave Mikhail Gorbachev the political clout he needed to get rid of some deadwood officers and put reformers in their places.
Now Japan isn’t the Late Soviet Union, desperate to find ways to loosen the military’s grip on the country’s resources. Japan is however led by its first explicitly nationalist Prime Minister since Douglas MacArthur gave Hideki Tojo the boot in 1945.