Japan scrambled jets after 11 Chinese military planes flew near southern Japanese islands during what Beijing said was a drill to improve its long-range combat abilities, reports said yesterday.
The airplanes — eight bombers, two intelligence gathering airplanes and one early-warning aircraft — flew near Miyako and Okinawa on Friday without violating Japan’s airspace, the Japanese Ministry of Defense said in a statement released on Friday.
Some of them flew between the two islands while others made flights close to neighboring islands, the ministry said.
Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force Colonel Shen Jinke (申進科) said several types of planes, including H-6K bombers, were involved in Friday’s drill over the western Pacific, China’s Xinhua news agency reported.
Shen said such open sea exercises had improved the force’s long-distance combat abilities, according to Xinhua.
While there were no further comments from the Japanese ministry, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported that it was “unusual” for China to dispatch such a large fleet close to Japan’s airspace and the ministry was analyzing the purpose of the mission.
Japan scrambles jets hundreds of times per year to defend its airspace, both against Russia and these days also against Chinese aircraft.
Beijing has warned this is heightening tensions between the two Asian powerhouses, which are already at loggerheads over a long-standing territorial row in the East China Sea and Japanese military aggression in the first half of the 20th century.
The move comes with tensions running high in the South China Sea after a US warship sailed close to at least one artificial island claimed by China, which has rattled its neighbours with its increasingly assertive stance in territorial disputes.
China insists on sovereignty over virtually all the resource-rich South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by Taiwan and other nations.
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