• Eight Chinese air force planes flew close to Japan’s Senkaku islands 
  •  Japan scrambled a fighter jet as a precaution during yesterday’s incident
  •  Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga warned China not to provoke  


26 September 2016

Japan scrambled a fighter jet over disputed islands in the East China Sea after eight Chinese warplanes overflew the area over the weekend.

Japan’s top government spokesman Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga today warned China against expanding its military activity near the Senkaku islands.

The archipelago of five uninhabited islands and three rocky outcrops is controlled by Japan but claimed by China, who refer to them as the Diaoyu islands.

Chinese fighter jets flew across the Miyako Strait yesterday in what was perceived by the Japanese as a show of aggressive intent FILE PHOTO

Japan launched at least one jet yesterday but did not confront Chinese aircraft – two fighter jets, four bombers and two reconnaissance aircraft – because they did not violate Japanese airspace, said Mr Suga.

But he said it was the first time Chinese air force planes had flown over the Miyako Strait and was taken as a sign of aggression.

Chinese media said the flights were part of a routine exercise involving 40 aircraft.

Mr Suga said Japan would respond firmly to any violation of their airspace.

He said: ‘The government of Japan continues to watch the Chinese military’s activity, which has become expansive and more active, while carrying out our surveillance activity.

‘We are determined to defend our land, territorial waters and the skies.’

Chinese coastguard ships regularly enter Japanese territorial waters around the islands and exchange warnings with Japanese ships, but so far no shots have been fired.

Although the Senkaku islands are uninhabited, they have strategic value as they sit close to key shipping routes and may also sit on vital oil and gas deposits.

Beijing has been increasingly aggressive in its stance in maritime disputes with Japan and also, further south, with Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines, over rival claims in the South China Sea.

In the year to March 2016, Japan’s air force scrambled jets 571 times against Chinese planes flying near Japanese air space, an increase of 107 from the previous year.

In June Japan accused China of sending a spy ship into its territorial waters as Tokyo conducted a joint exercise with the United States and India.