Japan again rejected on Monday China’s accusation that Self-Defense Forces aircraft interfered with joint naval drills being held by China and Russia. SDF units regularly carry out early-warning and surveillance activities in line with international law, the government said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe instructed Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera to ensure that such activities continue and to lodge a protest with China through diplomatic channels, two days after Chinese aircraft intercepted Japanese surveillance planes and flew within a wingspan of them in the East China Sea.
One of the two Chinese SU-27 fighter jets flew roughly 50 meters from the SDF’s OP-3C surveillance plane, while the other came as close as 30 meters to a YS-11EB electronic intelligence aircraft in the East China Sea, where the two countries’ air defense identification zones overlap and where several disputed islands are situated.
China’s Defense Ministry said Sunday the SDF planes “monitored and interfered with a joint military drill by the navies of China and Russia,” adding that it scrambled fighters to carry out the necessary identification and security measures.
Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki summoned Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua to the Foreign Ministry on Monday afternoon and urged Beijing to prevent a similar situation from happening again. He also prodded China to respond to Japan’s call to establish a bilateral communication mechanism for maritime affairs to prevent unexpected contingencies from developing.
“I strongly protested the Chinese fighter jets’ abnormal approach to the SDF planes,” Saiki said after meeting with Cheng. “I told China to take concrete measures to prevent similar incidents.”
Cheng, however, told Saiki that China’s stance is that Japan was the one that triggered Saturday’s incident.
“I lodged a protest over Japan’s dangerous surveillance activities,” Cheng said, adding that the SDF planes entered an area where China and Russia were conducting a joint drill. “Those were dangerous actions.”
But defense chief Onodera rejected that, telling an Upper House audit committee meeting Monday that “there were no warnings” from the Chinese side and that Japan conducted regular warning and surveillance operations “in accordance with international law.”
Onodera said he would make Tokyo’s stance clear at the upcoming Asia Security Summit, which begins Friday in Singapore. The summit, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, is a forum for defense and military chiefs to discuss security issues.
The incident came amid heightened tensions between Japan and China over uninhabited East China Sea islands claimed by both countries and known as the Senkakus by Japan and Diaoyu by China. Coast guard ships constantly tail one another in the area.
The airborne encounter came during the first joint naval exercises between China and Russia in the East China Sea.
The incident was the closest recorded encounter between Chinese and Japanese military planes since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, said Ni Lexiong, director of national defense policy research at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.
“It was very rare and dangerous,” said Ni. “Both Tokyo and Beijing wanted to show they wouldn’t go soft on each other’s provocations. They’re testing each other’s bottom line.”