Fact-check: Did Japan deploy missiles to counter Chinese threat after India-China conflict?

On June 20, a Thailand-based news website Asia News published an article with the headline ‘Japan deployed ballistic missiles at China border after its conflict with India’. The article claimed that Japan “will implement the Patriot Pac-3 MSE Air Defense Missile System deployment at four military bases by June this year”. Since then, the report has been shared by several social media users on Twitter and Facebook.

On June 22, Republic TV (archive) published an article based on the Asia Times report. This article was retweeted over 1,200 times (archive).

The article by Asia News was also shared by BJP IT head Amit Malviya, BJP national panellist Rohit Chahal, ABP anchor Namrata Wagle, actor Praveen Dabas and blogger Narayanan Hariharan (archived link).

Prashant Patel Umrao, whose trysts with misinformation have been documented in this report, similarly tweeted, “Japan deployed ballistic missiles at China border after its conflict with India. In addition to deploying its missile, Japan has also increased the number of army [men] along China border & asked China has to vacate Diaoyu Island by saying it belongs to Japan.” This was retweeted over 3,000 times as of this writing (archive).

Fact-check

The headline of the article by Asia News claimed that Japan deployed missiles at China border. However, the body of the report does not make this assertion. In fact, without references to Indo-China dispute, it claimed that Japan “will implement the Patriot Pac-3 MSE Air Defense Missile System deployment at four military bases by June this year”. In this fact-check, we’ll answer the following:

1) What is Patriot PAC-3 MSE?
2) When did Japan deploy PAC-3 MSE?
3) Is Asia News an authentic source of information?
4) What is the territorial dispute between Japan and China?

1) What is PAC-3 MSE?

As per the Japnese Ministry of Defence (MoD), Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (PAC-3 MSE) or Advanced PAC-3 is an air defence systems for countering airborne threats specifically ballistic missiles. It is an enhanced version of PAC-3 with double the range. The graphic attached below from ‘2017 Defence of Japan’ report (view pdf), shows the improved range of PAC-3 MSE.

2) When did Japan deploy PAC-3 MSE?

Alt News performed a keyword search in Japanese and found an article by Kyodo, a Japan-based news website. As per the article, Yoshinari Marumo, a general officer at Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force, stated that PAC-3 MSE was made available to four prefectures (states) in March. This was also reported by The Sankei News, Tokyo Web, The Hokkaido Shimbun Press and several other websites.

Since the missiles were deployed in March, this cannot be linked to the recent India-China dispute.

As per a 2016 report by Reuters, Japan is upgrading from PAC-3 to PAC-3 MSE in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as a response to North Korean’s growing missile threat in the region.

Even articles on PAC-3 do not that state that they have been deployed with regard to India’s tensions with China. A June 17 article by Japan Times states that PAC-3 was deployed at the Defense Ministry’s Ichigaya military base in Tokyo after North Korea announced plans to deploy troops at inter-Korean cooperation sites.

On June 18, the Japan Ministry of Defense/Self-Defense Forces tweeted images of PAC-3 at camp Naebo in Hokkaido.

Thus, the claim by Asia News that PAC-3 MSE missiles were deployed at China border is false and misleading.

3) Source verification: Asia News

Bylines of all articles on the Asia News website are identical — ‘Asia News’. This probably explains why the website does not have a ‘Team’ page. Its ‘About‘ section states that the Thailand-based website cover news from Thailand, India, Nepal, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and Indonesia. However, in the last six months, all videos uploaded on its unverified YouTube channel (archive link) are related to India. In fact, the last video was made in Hindi, rather odd for a Thailand-based news website.

Similarly, none of Asia News’s social media accounts is verified.

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Red flags in the article

The first clue that raised suspicions about the Japan-China story was that a Thailand-based news website filed a report from Budapest. Furthermore, a sentence in the first paragraph reads, “However, to respond to his intentions, India, as well as Japan, have created a mood.” For starters, the sentence is grammatically incorrect, and it attempts to bring India into the discourse to somehow link the ‘news’ to the Indo-China dispute.

We also noticed that unlike other Asia News articles, the viral article is not attributed to a source. For instance, a June 24 article with the headline ‘South Korea: First female trade minister bids for top WTO job’ has been attributed to Reuters News Agency.

A brief explanation of the Japan-China dispute

The two nations share a territorial dispute over a group of uninhabited islands known as Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands in China. On June 22, CNN published a report that includes updates about the recent conflict along with historical context. The screenshot below shows the location of camp Naebo in Hokkaido, where PAC-3 missiles were deployed in June, and the approximate location of inhabited islands subjected to decades-old territorial dispute between China and Japan.

On May 10, Japan Times reported, “According to the Japan Coast Guard, Chinese government ships entered the Japanese waters around the Senkakus for two consecutive days for the first time since August 2016.”

On June 22, Reuters reported that Japan passed a bill to change the name of the administrative area covering the islands to Tonoshiro Senkaku from October 1. As per the same report, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian responded, “The bill is a severe provocation to China’s territorial sovereignty. It’s illegal and invalid.”

It is evident that tensions are rising between the two countries. But an armed conflict has not taken place. Readers should note that the Article V of Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, listed on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, states, “Each Party recognizes that an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes.” Therefore, if Japan had taken any military action against China, the US would have been involved.

Therefore, a shoddy website named Asia News published an article with a false and misleading headline claiming that Japan deployed ballistic missiles at China border after its conflict with India. This was republished by Republic TV and also shared by BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya.

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