Japan scrambles jets in dispute with China over islands
BEIJING -- Japan scrambled F-15 fighter jets Thursday in response to a Chinese surveillance plane that flew over contested islands in the East China Sea, ratcheting up a dispute that is becoming increasingly worrisome to the international community.
By the time the fighters from Okinawa reached the area, the plane belonging to the Chinese Oceanic Administration had flown away and the incident ended without a confrontation.
Nonetheless, it set nerves on edge around the region. Japan's Defense Ministry said it was the first time a Chinese plane had intruded into airspace the Japanese have claimed since at least 1958, although Chinese vessels have frequently been darting into the waters near the islands, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.
Chief Cabinet secretary Osamu Fujimura said Japan had lodged an official protest and summoned the Chinese ambassador in Tokyo.
"It is extremely deplorable that China's official airplane conducted an airspace invasion of Japan’s territory today, on top of their intrusion of territorial waters," he said in a statement.
The sparring over the uninhabited islands in recent months has become increasingly alarming, with nationalistic fervor rising in the midst of political transitions in both countries. The Chinese Communist Party’s new general secretary, Xi Jinping, installed just a month ago, has been trying to prove himself a staunch defender of Chinese sovereignty.
In campaigning ahead of Japan’s general election on Sunday, opposition leader and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been talking tough about China in hopes of getting his old job back. He has called for an amendment to Japan’s pacifist constitution that would expand the nation's Self-Defense Forces.
"Nationalism is a tool that many Asian leaders have abused for their political purposes," warned Lee Chung-min, a professor of international relations at Yonsei University in Seoul, speaking this week a security conference in the South Korean capital.
For their part, Chinese officials defended what they said was their right to fly the surveillance plane into the area.
"I want to stress that these activities are completely normal. The Diaoyu and its affiliated islands are China's inherent territory since ancient times," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing.
The Chinese plane was reported by Tokyo to have flown nine miles south of the largest island in the chain, Uotsuri Jima. The Japanese Defense Ministry said there had only been two other violations of the country's airspace since it began keeping records in 1958, one by a Soviet plane and another from Taiwan.
An intrusion by an airplane is potentially far more dangerous than one by a ship because international law gives a country the right to expel an unauthorized aircraft by force.
Also, the incident occurred on a sensitive date on the Chinese calendar, marking the 75th anniversary of the start of a massacre by Japanese troops who had occupied the Chinese city of Nanjing in the lead-up to World War II.
Memorial services were being held Thursday in the city, previously known as Nanking, for hundreds of thousands of victims of the massacre.
Dangerous moves in the East China Sea could bring Japan, China to armed conflict
Japan accuses China of airspace intrusion over islands
Japan has accused China of violating its airspace for the first time after a Chinese government plane flew near disputed East China Sea islands.
Fighter jets were scrambled after the plane was seen around 11:00 local time (02:00 GMT) near one of the islands, spokesman Osamu Fujimura said.
Japan lodged an immediate protest with Beijing, he said.
The islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, have been a long-standing source of tension.
A total of eight F-15 fighters were sent after reports of the presence of the plane, which belong to China's State Oceanic Administration - a state body tasked with law enforcement in Chinese waters.
Japan's defence ministry said it was the first intrusion into Japan's air space by a Chinese government aircraft since the military began keeping records in 1958.
Last year, Japan said two Chinese military planes flew near the area, but did not enter the country's airspace.
Mr Fujimura called the incident "extremely deplorable", saying it followed a report from the coast guard that Chinese surveillance ships had also been seen in waters near the islands earlier in the day.
"It is extremely regrettable that, on top of that, an intrusion into our airspace has been committed in this way," he said.
The Chinese ambassador in Tokyo had been summoned to hear a formal Japanese protest, he said.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, however, said during a regular news briefing that the plane's flight was "completely normal".
"The Diaoyu islands and affiliated islands are part of China's inherent territory," he said. "The Chinese side calls on Japan to halt all entries into water and airspace around the islands."
Japan controls the islands, which are also claimed by Taiwan. Close to strategically important shipping lanes, the waters around the islands also offer rich fishing grounds and are thought to contain oil deposits.
The dispute over their ownership has rumbled for years but the Japanese government's acquisition of three of the islands from their private Japanese owner in September sparked a renewed row, triggering a diplomatic chill and public protests in some Chinese cities.
Since then Chinese ships have been sailing in and out of waters around the islands, prompting warnings from Japan.
It is not clear whether this is a move by the Chinese side to escalate the dispute, or a one-off event designed to remind Japan of unsettled history, says the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Tokyo.
Today marks the 75th anniversary of the start of the Nanjing massacre, where Japanese troops killed tens of thousands of Chinese civilians in China's old capital, Nanjing, in 1937.
The incident also comes days before a Japanese general election thought likely to result in a change of government in Tokyo.
China's dangerous game
Rupert Wingfield-Hayes BBC News, Tokyo
This looks very much like a carefully calibrated escalation by China of the island dispute.
The plane flown over the disputed islands was small, propeller-driven and non-military. When challenged by Japanese fighter jets, the pilots of the Chinese plane replied that it was Chinese airspace and the Japanese planes should leave. China's plan appears to be to gradually establish a de facto presence in the waters, and now the airspace, around the disputed islands.
Eventually Beijing may believe it will lead to de facto control. The statement from China's foreign ministry certainly seems to back this up. It called on Japan to "halt all entries in to water and airspace around the islands".
But if Beijing thinks Japan will capitulate in the same way the Philippines has over Scarborough Shoal atoll in the South China Sea, it is almost certainly wrong. Tokyo has made it very clear it will not give up the islands. Japan has a large and powerful navy and air force. This is a game with high stakes and is potentially extremely dangerous.
Japan-China disputed islands
- The archipelago consists of five islands and three reefs
- Japan, China and Taiwan claim them; they are controlled by Japan and form part of Okinawa prefecture
- Japanese businessman Kunioki Kurihara owned three of the islands but sold them to the Japanese state in September
- The islands were also the focus of a major diplomatic row between Japan and China in 2010
China asks army to be ready for regional war
China said it was normal for its marine surveillance aircraft to fly over the disputed Diaoyu islands after Japan scrambled fighter jets to intercept the Chinese aircraft early on Thursday.
Within hours of the incident, Communist Party of China (CPC) general secretary was quoted by the state media as ordering the largest armed forces in the world, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to be ready to win “regional wars.”
China and Japan are locked in a dispute over the ownership of the Diaoyu (which the Japanese call Senkaku) islands in the East China Sea but it was for the first time that aircraft from both countries were involved in the row.
Thursday also marked the 75th anniversary of the beginning of an episode known as the Nanjing Massacre, when the Japanese Imperial Army troops entered Nanjing, the then-Chinese capital and triggered large-scale violence.
Earlier in the day, eight Japanese F-15 fighter jets flew out after a Japanese coast guard ship spotted the Chinese aircraft over the islands.
Agencies from Tokyo said four maritime surveillance vessels were logged in waters around the islands earlier in the day, the coastguard said, adding it had ordered them to leave.
Such confrontations have become commonplace since Japan nationalized the East China Sea islands in September, a move it insisted amounted to nothing more than a change of ownership of what was already Japanese territory.
But Beijing later dismissed the incident.
“The Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islets are an inalienable part of China’s territory, and it’s completely normal for a Chinese marine surveillance plane to fly over them,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular press conference in Beijing.
He also urged Japan to stop its illegal operations in the waters and space concerning the islands.
Hong pointed out that the current severe difficulties in China-Japan relations are the result of Japan’s illegal purchase of the Diaoyu Islands, and he called on the Japanese government to correct its mistakes by showing sincerity and taking action through dialogue and negotiation.
Meanwhile, Xi also the head of the powerful Central Military Commission has ordered the PLA to intensify its “real combat” awareness to win regional wars, state-run Xinhua reported on Thursday.
Edited by key2thecup, 14 December 2012 - 08:27 PM.