, TOKYO, Dec 13 – Japan scrambled eight fighter jets on Thursday after a Chinese state-owned plane breached its airspace for the first time, over islands at the centre of a dispute between the countries.
It was the first incursion by a Chinese state aircraft into Japanese airspace anywhere since Tokyo’s military began monitoring in 1958, the defence ministry said.
The move marks a ramping-up of what observers suggest is a Chinese campaign to create a “new normal” – where its forces come and go as they please around islands Beijing calls the Diaoyus, but Tokyo controls as the Senkakus.
It also comes as ceremonies mark the sensitive 75th anniversary of the start of the Nanjing Massacre, when Japanese Imperial Army troops embarked on an orgy of violence and killing in the then-Chinese capital.
F-15 jets were mobilised after a Chinese Maritime Surveillance twin turbo-prop aircraft ventured over the islands just after 11am (0200 GMT), Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters.
“It was a fixed-wing Y-12 aeroplane belonging to the Chinese State Oceanic Administration. We confirmed that this aeroplane flew in our country’s airspace,” he said.
“It is extremely regrettable. We will continue to resolutely deal with any act violating our country’s sovereignty, in accordance with domestic laws and regulations,” he said, adding a senior Chinese diplomat had been summoned.
Japan mobilised eight F-15 jets and an E2C early-warning aircraft, the Asahi Shimbun reported, citing a defence ministry source. But the incident appeared to have passed off without any direct confrontation.
In Beijing, China’s foreign ministry said the flight had been routine.
“China’s maritime surveillance plane flying over the Diaoyu islands is completely normal,” said spokesman Hong Lei.
“China requires the Japanese side to stop illegal activities in the waters and airspace of the Diaoyu islands,” Hong said, adding they were “China’s inherent territory since ancient times”.
The incident came as Japan’s coastguard chief told reporters he was digging in for a protracted dispute.