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Japan, China trade claims over latest aerial provocation

by Reiji Yoshida and Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writers

Tokyo and Beijing traded blame Thursday over the second close and potentially dangerous encounter in just over two weeks between Chinese SU-27 fighter jets and Japanese reconnaissance planes over the East China Sea.

The close encounter took place Wednesday where the air defense identification zones of China and Japan overlap due to their claims to the Senkaku Islands, a defense official told The Japan Times.

Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki summoned Chinese Ambassador Cheng Yonghua to the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo to protest what Japanese officials described as a “very dangerous act” that could trigger an accidental clash between the two countries.

According to the Defense Ministry, one of the two Chinese jets came as close as 30 meters to a YS-11EB electronic intelligence aircraft from the Air Self-Defense Force, and within 45 meters of an OP-3C surveillance plane from the Maritime Self-Defense Force between 11 a.m. and noon Wednesday.

Japanese officials said the SDF turboprops were engaging in a “normal vigilance and surveillance” mission that it was legal under international law.

But Cheng said Tokyo’s claims were false and that a Japanese military plane approached a Chinese military plane first and flew within 30 meters of it. The two SU-27s then moved in to monitor the SDF planes, he said. The Chinese fighters maintained a distance of 150 to 200 meters from the SDF, Cheng told reporters after meeting with Saiki.

“The facts the Chinese side have confirmed are totally different. We cannot accept the protest by the Japanese side,” Cheng said.

Later in the day, the Chinese Defense Ministry posted a video on its website that showed an ASDF F-15 fighter jet flying next to a Chinese Tu-154 jet, apparently as claimed by Cheng. The ministry claimed the F-15 approached and flew next to the Tu-154 from 10:17 a.m. To 10:28 a.m. Wednesday.

In a statement on the website, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Gen Yansheng bashed Japan for trying to “deceive international society, tarnish the image of our forces and create tension in the region.”

In response, two high-ranking Japanese officials in Tokyo anonymously claimed the footage posted by China was taken earlier than Wednesday.

One of the two also claimed that no F-15 was involved in Wednesday’s encounter.

Separately, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters in Tokyo that even if F-15s were in the area, “experts who saw the video would conclude that the F-15 was carrying out a scramble operation very stably within the framework of international law.”

He added that he has no idea when and where the video was taken.

Earlier in the day, the Defense Ministry released what it said was a photo of one of the two SU-27s that reportedly approached the Japanese planes.

This is the second provocative encounter of its type in just over two weeks. On May 24, Chinese SU-27s flew within 30 meters of two SDF surveillance planes over the East China Sea, also in an area where the two nations’ ADIZs overlap. China and Russia were holding naval exercises at the time.

A high-ranking official said Thursday that the government now suspects China ordered the pilots to buzz the Japanese planes a second time.

“If an such encounter takes place once, that may be an accident. But this is the second time,” the official said on condition of anonymity. The encounters “may have been staged in an organized manner.”

In November, China declared it was extending its ADIZ over the East China Sea, eliciting strong protests from Tokyo and Washington, whose militaries are ignoring the zone. Japan established its ADIZ in 1969, based on one declared by the U.S.-led Occupation after World War II. Both zones cover the contested Senkaku Islands.

“The flight maneuver was so rough that the Japanese pilots felt it was dangerous,” Defense Minister Istunori Onodera said. “Chinese military authorities should maintain good morale (among pilots). That about sums it up,” Onodera told NHK.

Tensions between Tokyo and Beijing have risen in recent months, particularly regarding the territorial row over the Senkakus, which are administered by Japan but claimed by Beijing and Taipei. The islets are called Diaoyu by China and Tiaoyutai by Taiwan.

The Japanese and Chinese militaries do not have an emergency hotline to prevent an accidental clash from escalating, and many government officials and experts fear the two countries may encounter just such an incident in the East China Sea or in the skies above it.

The risk has been growing recently as China regularly sends airplanes and ships into waters near the Senkaku Islands to assert its claim.

The Defense Ministry said ASDF fighters scrambled to intercept Chinese planes near Japan’s ADIZ 415 times in fiscal 2013, up from 306 in fiscal 2012 and 156 in fiscal 2011

  • tholan

    who is the real villain the YS-11EB electronic intelligence aircraft or the su27?.

    • Roppi

      Give me a break – what a stupid comment – but I guess you earned your ¥50 for the post!

      • tholan

        and so do you. i hope

      • Roppi

        are you making a comment – if so lay it out…

  • John

    of course the YS-11EB electronic intelligence aircraft. Who else can you think of?

  • JimmyJM

    China keeps accusing “other countries” of stirring trouble and provocative acts. China’s fighter pilots are what professional fighter pilots call “Cowboys”. It’s a contest to see who can get closest to another country’s aircraft without actual contact. Remember the Chinese cowboy who wasn’t quite as skillful as he thought he was? He collided with an American recon plane near Hainan. He died but the Chinese got a windfall in technology and cryptographic equipment when the American plane made an emergency landing. They no doubt hope to get lucky again with a Japanese high tech aircraft. They can afford a pilot and fighter for that kind of bonanza.

    • The Truth

      Imagine a Chinese reconnaissance plane flying spy mission along the US coast. For sure it will be WW3.

      • JimmyJM

        You must be new to this planet. While the Chinese haven’t managed a recon flight to the U.S. yet, the Russians do it all the time – on both coasts. Recon flights everywhere are nothing new. The countries that have the assets do it, those who don’t are spending a significant portion of their GDP to buy or build those assets. Welcome to Earth.

      • Roppi

        1. – the Chinese wish they could – but there’s no way their Russian fighters could get any where near the US coast.
        2. try being at least original in your posts – WW3 indeed!

  • Roppi

    Typical Chinese belligerency – they should perhaps try the same heroic high skilled manoeuvres on the Americans and their Raptor aircraft – see how far their ‘skills’ take them.
    And I suspect this is all a well planned strategy into forcing a conflict with Japan – which of course they will blame Japan for. The problem the the PLA/CCP is that they actually believe – the rest of the world can’t see exactly what this is..

    Imagine if Japanese fighter aircraft had buzzed the Chinese version is the YS-11EB..we would be in the middle WW3.

  • SirLee_V

    If Japan wants this to stop all they need to do is start having some of their F-18′s escort their patrol planes. Watch the SU-27 pilot crap their flight suit when an F-18 pops out of the radar shadow of the YS-11EB when he starts to approach.

    • The Truth

      Japan doesn’t fly F 18 Sirlee. They can be F2, F 15 or F4.

  • The Truth

    “The close encounter took place in airspace where the air defense identification zones (ADIZ) of China and Japan overlap”. So China is merely checking out the Japanese planes in their zone just as the Japanese will do the same in their zone. ADIZ is not an exclusive concept to Japan and US only. Typically the reactions of many is “of course the Chinese are to blame”. Yeah Chinese = bad guys and Japanese = good guys. Very naive indeed.

    • Roppi

      ‘so China was merely checking out the Japanese planes..”…really fighter jets within 30 meters? – you’re a joke and so is your ‘government’!

  • Hongkiejj

    a bunch of crybabies…both are doing exactly the same thing with all these flyby etc etc. both have videos to proof both acts. both are equally guilty if one must make a judgment.
    whereas china kept a low profile simply because its really no big deal for starters, JDM are trying to hype the threat intentionally and thus the counter reaction with proof from china side to clarify.
    have anyone ever wonder why and what japan defense ministry is trying to accomplish here with this while knowing full well you are actually doing the same thing. what is there to deny ?
    don’t be a hypocrite and just accept these constant checking with continue irregardless of who is within the adiz zone.
    fly all you want but leave the trigger alone….

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  • Roppi

    dude – get off this tread – you’re a paid troll..lacking in any insight apart from the CCP mantra and you reveal that every time you post…

  • Roppi

    I can tell by your inability to write English that you’re not who suggest you are….with attitudes like yours – you’d fit right into the CCP party machinery – or perhaps you already do…

    • The Truth

      If you have nothing to say it is better for you to say nothing. I know you feel better after writing such comment but really it is just another of your pointless postings.

  • Roppi

    every time you post – you make my argument for me…
    Unfortunately you’re just too blinded by CCP propaganda to realise the absolute shlock you write..or perhaps the other alternative is you’re simply mentally challenged – consider a change in medication might help!

    • The Truth

      Roppi, what I wrote is beyond your simple childish mind to understand. Never mind no need to get upset. You are free to believe the Chinese is going to start WW3 with the rest of the world because they are so EVIL.