Japan scrambles jets as Chinese plane flies over disputed isles

Thu Dec 13, 2012 6:33am EST
 

By Kiyoshi Takenaka

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan scrambled fighter jets on Thursday after a Chinese government plane entered what Japan considers its airspace over disputed islets in the East China Sea, escalating tension between Asia's two biggest economies.

Japan protested to China over the incident but China brushed the complaint off saying the flight by the Chinese aircraft was "completely normal".

Sino-Japanese relations took a tumble in September after Japan bought the tiny islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, from a private Japanese owner.

Patrol ships from the two countries have been shadowing each other since then in a standoff that has raised concern that a collision could escalate into a clash. Thursday's incident was the first time both sides used aircraft in the dispute.

"Despite our repeated warnings, Chinese government ships have entered our territorial waters for three days in an row," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osama Fujimura told reporters.

"It is extremely regrettable that, on top of that, an intrusion into our airspace has been committed in this way," he said, adding that Japan had formally protested through diplomatic channels.

Japan's military scrambled eight F-15 fighter jets, the Defence Ministry said. Japanese officials later said the Chinese aircraft had left the area.

It was the first time a Chinese aircraft had intruded into Japan's airspace near the disputed islands, Japan's Defence Ministry said.   Continued...

 
An airplane belonging to China's state oceanic administration flies past about 15 km (9 miles) south of one of the disputed islets, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea, in this handout released by 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters-Japan Coast Guard December 13, 2012. Japan protested to China on Thursday after a Chinese government plane entered what Japan considers its airspace over disputed islets in the East China Sea, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said. The incident prompted Japan's military to scramble eight F-15 fighter jets, the Defence Ministry said. Japanese officials later said the Chinese aircraft had left the area. Mandatory Credit REUTERS/11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters-Japan Coast Guard/Handout