• Reuters, Kyodo


Chinese fighter jets flew within a few dozen meters of Japanese military planes over the East China Sea, officials in Tokyo said Sunday, prompting Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera to accuse Beijing of going “over the top” in its approach to disputed territory.

The Chinese SU-27 fighters came as close as 50 meters to a Japanese P-3C surveillance plane near the uninhabited Senkaku Islands on Saturday, and within 30 meters of YS-11EB electronic intelligence aircraft, the ministry said.

A ministry official said it was the closest Chinese warplanes had come to Self-Defense Forces aircraft.

“Closing in while flying normally over the high seas is impossible,” Onodera told reporters in comments broadcast on TV Asahi. “This is a close encounter that is outright over the top.”

Onodera said the government had conveyed its concerns to Beijing via diplomatic channels. He added that the Chinese planes were carrying missiles.

The two SDF aircraft were monitoring a joint naval drill being conducted by China and Russia near Japanese territorial waters, a government source said.

The Chinese Defense Ministry meanwhile said on its website Sunday that the SDF planes had entered an air defense identification zone Saturday despite “no fly” notices issued by Beijing before the exercises. China declared the new ADIZ last year despite protests by Japan and the United States, which have ignored it.

“Japanese military planes intruded on the exercise’s airspace without permission and carried out dangerous actions, in a serious violation of international laws and standards which could have easily caused a misunderstanding and even led to a midair accident,” the Chinese statement claimed.

Tensions between China and its neighbors have been running high over Beijing’s increasingly assertive stance toward territorial disputes in the region. China lays claim to the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are called Diaoyu by China. It is also pressing its claim to almost all of the South China Sea — brushing aside claims by several Southeast Asian nations.

China’s proclamation last November of the ADIZ covering the disputed isles and areas in the South China Sea raised concerns that a minor incident in one of the contested areas could rapidly escalate into a major conflict.

Sino-Japanese ties have long been strained by Beijing’s allegations that Japan has not properly atoned for its wartime aggression, as well as the ongoing row over the Senkakus.

The SDF scrambled fighter jets against Chinese planes 415 times in the fiscal year that ended in March — up 36 percent on the previous year — while patrol ships from both countries have been playing cat and mouse in waters near the disputed islands, ratcheting up fears of an accidental clash.

Japanese land, sea and air forces joined together last week to simulate the recapture of a remote island, underscoring Tokyo’s constant concern about the security of its furthest-flung areas.

China has also raised tensions with neighbors in recent weeks over the deployment of an oil rig in waters in the South China Sea also claimed by Vietnam.

The deployment of the rig sparked days of anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam. The Philippine Foreign Ministry this month accused China of reclaiming land on a disputed reef in the South China Sea, adding that Beijing appeared to be using the reef to build an airstrip.

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