Analysis: China and Japan seek to dial down tensions, but risks remain

Sun Feb 3, 2013 4:37pm EST
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By Linda Sieg and John Ruwitch

TOKYO/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Two Japanese F-15s scramble as a Chinese plane nears the disputed islands: one in the lead, the other providing cover.

They issue radio warnings to leave the area, but are ignored.

Visual wing-tipping signals go unheeded.

The Japanese pilots consider their last option: firing warning shots - a step Beijing could consider an act of war.

That's how the risky game being played near a chain of rocky, uninhabited isles at the heart of a row between Beijing and Tokyo could quickly escalate to the danger point, a former Japanese air force pilot said.

"China would be furious. They would regard it as war, although it is not by international law," the ex-pilot said of the depicted scenario in the skies over the East China Sea.

A long-simmering row over the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, has in recent months escalated to the point where both have scrambled fighter jets while patrol ships shadow each other in nearby seas.

Tokyo noted last month that its pilots have the right under global rules to fire warning shots against intruders in its air space, a step Japan has taken only once since World War Two.   Continued...

A Japan Coast Guard patrol ship (L) sprays water at a fishing boat (R) carrying Taiwanese activists onboard while it heads for the disputed East China Sea islets called the Senkaku in Japan, the Diaoyu in China and the Tiaoyutai in Taiwan, as a Taiwan Coast Guard ship (C) attempts to protect the fishing boat, in this January 24, 2013 file handout photo provided by the Taiwan Coast Guard.REUTERS/Taiwan Coast Guard/Handout/Files