Japan showed off its newest warship today, the flat-top destroyer DDH-183, which is reportedly the largest ship the country has built since World War II. But while Japan insists the warship isn't an aircraft carrier—an important distinction, as it could then violate Japan's constitutional requirement to have a defense-only military—commentators in China say the ship is a wolf in slightly-less-aggressive-wolf's clothing.
The ship has a flight deck that's close to 820 feet long, and can carry up to 14 helicopters. Japan says the ship is designed for defense as well disaster response and aid delivery, with an emphasis on anti-submarine and border surveillance capabilities.
DDH-183, the largest ship built by Japan since World War II, at its unveiling. Via the Japanese Ministry of Defense's news site
That last part is part of China's concern, as the two countries have been battling over ownership of islands in the East China Sea for ages now. Both countries have thoroughly rattled their sabers over territory disputes, and both have emphasized growth in their naval capabilities. Still, China views the unveiling of the new ship, which is far larger than its predecessors, as intentionally provocative.
The 19,500 ton Izumo, which has been under construction since 2009, displaces about 5,500 more tons than Hyuga-class destroyers, according to figures listed on the Japanese military's site. That's a serious step up. And while the Japanese reportedly emphasized the ship's defensive capabilities at its unveiling, experts the AP spoke to say that it could be fairly capably converted for more offensive-minded efforts.
DDH-182, the Hyuga-class destroyer deployed before DDH-183, shows off its flat top design. Via the Japanese Ministry of Defense
The ship currently doesn't have a catapult system or launch ramp for fighter jets, but its enormous flight deck could potentially service jets with vertical take-off capabilities. Considering that Japan remains interested in the F-35, which does have a vertical takeoff variant, it's enough to spark speculation that Japan has an aircraft carrier in its docks.
(Update 4/13: Some pretty good points about the F-35 speculation in a Reddit comment, just thought I'd add that I was riffing off the AP's statement that "some experts believe the new Japanese ship could potentially be used in the future to launch fighter jets or other aircraft that have the ability to take off vertically.")
Japan says that's not the case, as attack aircraft carriers are banned under the country's constitution. They might not be in the future, however. Current prime minister Shinzo Abe has signaled that his party wants to amend the constitution to allow Japan to have its first standing army in seven decades.
That's what really has China concerned. A column on the state-run news site China.org.cn lays out a number of signs of perceived aggression on the part of Japan's government, including its increased military power and claims of latent Nazi worship within the ruling party.
Of course, China's own military is growing rapidly, so there's a bit of pot/kettle going on here. Blustering on both sides is just part of the game when you've got two countries that really don't much like each other. But, as the Izumo shows, when the talk is backed up by enormous new warships, tensions get just a little bit higher.