BEIJING: Beijing sent fighter jets to the East China Sea after Japanese aircraft followed a Chinese plane in a territorial dispute, the defence ministry said yesterday according to state media.
A ministry official told a press conference that two J-10 fighters flew to the area on Thursday to monitor two Japanese F-15 fighters that had trailed a Chinese Y-8 aircraft, China’s official Xinhua news agency said.
The comments came after Japanese media reported Tokyo had scrambled fighter jets to head off an unspecified number of Chinese military planes near islands at the centre of an increasingly tense maritime row.
The two countries are at odds over the small, uninhabited islands controlled by Tokyo as the Senkakus but claimed by Beijing, which calls them Diaoyu.
The Beijing defence ministry official said that Japanese military planes have been increasingly watching Chinese aircraft and have also extended the areas where they are active, Xinhua reported. China’s military will be on high alert and the country will protect its air defence force, the official said.
Japan’s Fuji TV network quoted Tokyo officials as saying that Chinese planes were spotted on Thursday on Japanese military radar north of the islands.
The aircraft did not violate territorial airspace over the islands but flew inside Japan’s so-called air defence identification zone, the report said.
Tokyo’s defence ministry has said that F-15s were sent airborne to head off Chinese state-owned -but not military-planes four times in December, including an occasion when Japanese airspace was breached. They were also mobilised once last week, it said.
Meanwhile, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has sharply criticised China for allowing anti-Japanese protests over the Senkaku islands to turn violent.
Demonstrations were held in dozens of Chinese cities in the autumn after Japan’s then prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, announced his government would buy the islands, known in China as the Diaoyu, from their private Japanese owners.
Abe, a nationalist who last month became prime minister for a second time, blamed the Chinese authorities for allowing the demonstrations to spiral out of control, and for damaging bilateral business ties. “It was wrong for China, as a country responsible to the international community, to achieve a political goal by allowing damages to Japanese-affiliated companies and Japanese nationals that have made contributions to the Chinese economy,” Abe said yesterday.
“This will not only undermine the bilateral relationship, but it will also negatively affect China’s economy and society.”
Noda had hoped the move would avert a more serious diplomatic fallout from the proposed purchase of the islands by Tokyo’s then nationalist governor, Shintaro Ishihara.
Protesters attacked Japanese businesses, factories and shops, forcing companies to temporarily close their premises and instruct employees to take safety precautions.
The four-month standoff over the islands, located in the East China Sea, damaged trade ties between Asia’s two biggest economies and prompted speculation that Japanese exporters would begin shifting investment to other parts of mainland Asia.
The riots, together with a Chinese consumer boycott of Japanese products, cost firms more than $100m, according to a Japanese government estimate. Toyota said its sales in China fell 4.9 percent last year, the first annual decline since 2001, while Nissan said its sales in the country had dropped 5.3 percent, the first decline since 2003.
Next week, Abe plans to visit Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand to strengthen ties as Japanese manufacturers boost investments in the region. His finance minister, Taro Aso, recently made a similar visit to Burma.