Battleland

Even Toy Ships Can’t Escape Islands Dispute

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Aoshima Bunka Kyouzaisha

Cover illustration for a model of the JS Hyuga posits a battle over remote islands in Japan -- with U.S. Marine Corps V-22s in the sky, and a sinking Chinese warship in the background.

TOKYO — It’s not every day that the illustration on a box cover for a model warship can annoy the Chinese, alarm the Japanese and amuse the U.S. Marine Corps – not to mention sinking the model ship itself.

But that’s what you get when you mess around with territorial disputes in the East China Sea these days.

This particular saga began about month ago when the Aoshima company introduced an updated version of its popular 1:700 scale model of the JS Hyuga, Japan’s largest and arguably most well-known warship. Hobbyists in Japan spend $500 million a year on scale models and related gear, so it’s a big business.

Being alert to headlines, Aoshima upgraded the Hyuga, a helicopter carrier, with V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and amphibious assault vehicles, and labeled the model “Operation Remote Island Defense.”

The previous cover showed the Hyuga sailing benignly in open seas. But the new illustration showed the sleek warship with Ospreys buzzing overhead and decks awash with landing vehicles and attack helicopters. In the background was a small island, and nearby was another warship, on fire and sinking below the waves. That warship bore an uncanny resemblance to the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning, which the PLA Navy launched with much fanfare last year, and is viewed with much suspicion in Japan.

No surprise, then, that the new model quickly sold out.

Japan and China are engaged in an increasingly tense standoff over a group of small, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, known as Senkaku in Japan, and Diaoyu in China.

Chinese patrol ships have sailed regularly inside the islands’ territorial waters for months, and Chinese frigates have twice locked fire-control radar on Japanese warships and aircraft nearby. Japanese news media have been filled with scenarios – mostly fanciful – wherein Chinese forces occupy Japanese territory and must be pried off by force.

Aoshima benefited from good timing. Just as the new model hit the shelves, U.S. Marines made news by landing a real Osprey on the deck of the actual Hyuga. The test flight took place during a massive amphibious warfare exercise with U.S. forces off the California coast, and drew intense media coverage in Japan.

Japan’s Self Defense Force does not own any Ospreys, but dearly wants to buy some. The V-22 can take off and land like a helicopter, and fly with the speed, range and payload of a fixed-wing aircraft. It is widely seen as ideal for defending remote islands in Japan’s sprawling southwest island chain.

Alas, the timing might have been too good.

Just a few days after the flight, a popular television show produced a lengthy segment on the Osprey that included a remarkably long look at Aoshima’s re-branded model. Panelists on the “7 Days” news and variety show  – including popular actor, writer, comedian and film auteur Takeshi Kitano – looked on as presenters visited a model shop in the frenetic Akihabara district and talked at length with Shigeru Ishiba, a former defense minister and current Secretary General of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Ishiba said he liked the model and certainly thought the idea of buying V-22s for Japan’s self defense forces was worth exploring. But he voiced some reservations about the cover illustration.

“The scenario being presented is exactly what we are trying to avoid,” Ishiba said.

The Chinese, ever suspicious of Japan, weren’t so sure about that. Chinese social media cited the model and illustration as further evidence of growing Japanese militarism and hostility towards China.

Apparently, all that was enough for Aoshima. The company stopped shipments of the new model and even pulled the “7 Days” TV segment from a company blog site.

And the Marines?

Well, it seems they kind of liked the illustration. As it happens, the Marines began flying Ospreys from Okinawa’s Futenma Air Base last year. The move provoked considerable protests from residents who were spooked by the aircraft’s early safety problems (though to be honest, the Marines couldn’t hold a bake sale on Okinawa without drawing protests from some quarters). But the Marines have been quick to point out that the Ospreys can put several hundred combat-ready troops anywhere in Japan’s southwestern chain in a matter of hours.

The Marines haven’t commented officially on the great box-cover controversy, but the Marines’ Operations and Intelligence Directorate on Okinawa circulated an analysis – apparently tongue in cheek. It observes that the Ospreys and amphibious landing craft in the illustration appear to be Marine Corps equipment, and notes with apparent approval the “subtle messaging” involved therein.

All of which may be moot. The JMSDF is scheduled to christen a newer, bigger helicopter carrier next month. The new ship, as yet unnamed, will be the largest warship built by Japan since the Second World War.

No word yet on what the illustration for the scale model will look like.

4 comments
eagle11772
eagle11772

World War II is LONG OVER.  Japan should be allowed to rearm, and develop it's offensive and defensive military capabilities as it sees fit.  The Japanese should finance their own military 100%, and not depend on U.S. taxpayers footing the bill for what increasingly looks like at least a 600 year commitment.

LuwianMemories
LuwianMemories

@eagle11772 

The so-called "Japanese Self-Defense Force" is one of the most powerful military forces in the world even without American military support. At its current state, most analysts (including those in China) believe that it can easily win over its Chinese counterparts in any naval battle. What the current Abe administration in Japan wants is to change the constitution so that the JSDF is not only restricted to defense, but also can conduct offense (i.e. start wars) as well. This has not only alarmed China, but also South Korea and Russia, both of which also have island disputes with Japan (Dokdo/Takeshima and the southern Kuriles respectively).

LuwianMemories
LuwianMemories

@SwiftrightRight @LuwianMemories @eagle11772  

If you want to make a rebuttal against my statement, why don't you do some research and show us how powerful the PLAN is compared to the JMSDF? Most scholars agree that the JSDF is quite a formidable force thanks to the US's reverse course policy back in the late 1940s and early 50s, which helped Japan to rebuild its military under the guise of "national policing force". In a sense, one can even compare the JSDF to the IDF, although of course, the settings that they are situated in are quite different.

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