BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Thursday called on Japan to stop "hampering" flights by Chinese military aircraft, after Japan said its scrambled fighter jets to prevent possible incursions by Chinese planes a record high number of times in the summer.
Japan jets scrambled 117 times from July to September, up from 103 in the same period of last year, although it was lower than the all-time high of 164 times recorded in the final quarter of 2014.
"These figures from Japan make me think of Japan's close following of, surveillance and interference with Chinese ships and aircraft that have been happening for a long time, threatening the safety of China's ships and aircraft," Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told a regular news briefing.
This could easily cause a safety issue in the air between China and Japan, he added.
"Chinese aircraft have the freedom to fly in the relevant airspace in accordance with the law. We urge the Japanese side to stop behavior that hampers Chinese freedom of flight."
He was speaking hours before the Chinese and U.S. navies were set to hold high-level talks over tension in the South China Sea after a U.S. warship challenged China's territorial assertions in the disputed waters this week.
Japan has long been mired in a territorial dispute with China over a group of tiny, uninhabited East China Sea islands, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
Patrol ships and fighter jets from Asia's two biggest economies have been shadowing each other on and off near the islets, raising fears that a confrontation could result in a clash.
Sino-Japanese ties, also plagued by the two countries' wartime past, concerns over Tokyo's bolder security stance and Beijing's increasing military assertiveness, have thawed a little in the last year.
Leaders from China, Japan and South Korea will hold a summit this weekend in Seoul, the first in three years.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie