WASHINGTON – The United States has voiced concern after a Chinese state-owned plane breached Japanese airspace over the Senkakus for the first time on record, overflying the uninhabited islets at the heart of a bitter bilateral row.
“It’s important to avoid actions that raise tensions and to prevent miscalculations that could undermine peace, security and economic growth in the region,” U.S. State Department acting deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Friday.
Washington has raised its concerns with Beijing, Ventrell said, adding the United States made clear that its “policy and commitments regarding the Senkaku Islands are long-standing and have not changed.” U.S. officials have also spoken with the Japanese government, he added.
Japan scrambled eight F-15 fighter jets Thursday after detecting the first incursion by a Chinese government aircraft into Japan’s airspace above the Senkaku chain since monitoring began in 1958, the Defense Ministry reported.
Observers suggest the move was part of a campaign by China to create a “new normal,” in which its forces can come and go as they please around the Japan-controlled isles, which Beijing calls Diaoyu and has claimed since the 1970s.
The incident appeared to pass without any direct confrontation.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the flight had been routine, with spokesman Hong Lei saying, “China’s maritime surveillance plane flying over the Diaoyu islands is completely normal.
“China requires the Japanese side to stop illegal activities in the waters and airspace of the Diaoyu,” Hong said, reiterating Beijing’s assertion that they have been “China’s inherent territory since ancient times.”
The Self-Defense Forces on Saturday began removing missile interceptors from Okinawa that were deployed earlier this month to shoot down any stray components from North Korea’s rocket launch earlier in the week.
Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles were deployed to four locations in the prefecture, but none was fired and no debris from the North’s launch on Wednesday was reported to have hit Japanese territory.
In the morning, the SDF loaded one of the PAC-3 missile batteries onto a transport vessel at the port of Nakagusuku on Okinawa Island. The remainder are set to be transferred to other places across the country by Sunday, Defense Ministry officials said.
The three-stage rocket was launched in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions but succeeded in putting a satellite with an unknown function into orbit. Japan, the United States and many other countries believe the launch was a covert ballistic missile test.