Flights over disputed islands raise Sino-Japanese tensions
Relations between China and Japan in the East China Sea region remain highly volatile as Beijing said yesterday it was “closely monitoring” Japanese jet-fighter flights over islands claimed by both countries and remains “highly vigilant”.
Speaking on the day after Japan’s hawkish new prime minister Shinzo Abe took office, Chinese defence ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said Japan was responsible for any consequences after Tokyo scrambled F15 fighters several times in the past two weeks to intercept Chinese surveillance planes approaching airspace above the islands.
The island chain, which is claimed by Japan, China and Taiwan, is called the Diaoyu in Chinese and the Senkaku by Japan.
“We will decisively fulfil our tasks and missions while co-ordinating with relevant departments such as maritime supervision organs, so as to safeguard China’s maritime law enforcement activities and protect the country’s territorial integrity and maritime rights,” ministry of defence spokesman Yang Yujun told a news briefing.
The latest element in this highly fractious spat has been brewing for several weeks. Tokyo says a Chinese aircraft breached what it considers Japanese airspace for the first time on December 13th. It lodged an official protest and summoned China’s ambassador in Tokyo, describing the incident as the first intrusion by a Chinese plane into its airspace.
“China-Japan defence relations are an important and sensitive part of bilateral ties, and the Japanese side should face up to the difficulties and problems that currently exist in bilateral ties,” Mr Yang said, in remarks carried by the Xinhua news agency.
Mr Abe has taken a hard line on the dispute over the islands, which are administered by the Japanese government after Tokyo purchased three of them from a private owner this past summer, sparking violent anti-Japanese protests across China.
Shi Qingfeng, spokesman for China’s State Oceanic Administration, said Japan’s action was intended to escalate the situation.
“The Japanese side is using military aircraft to interfere with planes on normal patrol in undisputed Chinese airspace,” Mr Shi said.
He described the conduct as “highly unreasonable” and accused the Japanese of trying to escalate the situation.
“The Japanese side must assume responsibility for the consequences,” he said.
Mr Abe has promised to increase defence spending in the face of what Tokyo sees as China’s growing military muscle in the region.
China has disputes with many of its neighbours in the region over various territories. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim parts of the South China Sea.