The Air Self-Defense Force scrambled fighter jets against Chinese aircraft approaching Japanese airspace a record 407 times in the first half of fiscal 2016.
According to figures released Friday by the Defense Ministry, the ASDF scrambled against foreign military planes, including Russian as well as Chinese aircraft, 594 times between April 1 and Sept. 30, up 251 from the same period last year.
China accounted for 70 percent of the incidents. The first-half figure of 407 is an increase of 176 from the 231 registered during the same period last year. The six-month figure is the highest since the ministry began releasing the data by country and region in fiscal 2001.
There were no occasions in which a foreign military plane entered Japan’s airspace.
China has increased its military activities near Japanese airspace in recent years, and the nature of its activities has become more aggressive.
For example, the ASDF scrambled aircraft when at least eight Chinese fighters and bombers and possibly more than 40 flew over the Miyako Straight in Okinawa Prefecture. It was the first time Chinese military planes had passed through that area.
Beijing has also ramped up its maritime assertiveness in the East China Sea, where the disputed Senkaku Islands are located. The islets are administered by Japan but claimed by both China and Taiwan.
In June, a Chinese frigate entered contiguous waters just outside Japan’s territorial waters for the first time. In August, more than 300 Chinese fishing ships and government ships operated near the Senkakus, escalating the tensions between the two countries.
Japan and China have yet to establish a maritime and air communication protocol, which is intended to prevent accidental clashes between aircraft and vessels.
Both countries agreed on the details of the mechanism in 2012, but implementation has been stalled since Japan effectively nationalized the Senkakus.
More aggressive behavior by the Chinese might imply a change in their strategic thinking, according to Masayuki Masuda, a senior fellow in the regional studies department of the National Institute for Defense Studies.
“China used to refrain from reckless military actions, fearing its capability gap with the U.S.,” Masuda said Friday during a symposium at the Sasayama Peace Foundation in Tokyo. “But Chinese experts said China is more inclined to display its military muscle as a means to deter and control the escalation.”
Meanwhile, the ASDF scrambled against Russian aircraft 180 times in the fiscal first half, up 72 times from the same period last year.