China "highly vigilant" over Japanese fighters flying over disputed islands
By Terril Yue Jones
BEIJING (Reuters) - China is "highly vigilant" about Japanese jet fighter flights over islands claimed by both countries and Japan must bear responsibility for any consequences, Chinese military and maritime officials said on Thursday.
The officials, speaking a day after a new hawkish Japanese prime minister took office, were responding to Japan sending jet fighters several times in the past two weeks to intercept Chinese patrol planes approaching airspace above the islands.
The situation in the volatile East China Sea region has severely strained relations between Beijing and Tokyo.
"We will decisively fulfill our tasks and missions while coordinating with relevant departments...so as to safeguard China's maritime law enforcement activities and protect the country's territorial integrity and maritime rights," Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told a news conference.
Japan's Defence Ministry has acknowledged scrambling F-15 jets on several occasions in recent weeks to intercept Chinese marine surveillance planes approaching the islands, called the Diaoyu in Chinese and the Senkaku by Japan.
It says a Chinese aircraft breached what it considers Japanese airspace for the first time on December 13.
The Japanese government administers the islands and purchased three of them from a private owner this past summer, sparking violent anti-Japanese protests across China.
New Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promised not to yield in the dispute over the islands and boost defense spending to counter Beijing's growing military clout. Continued...