Japan yesterday said it scrambled fighter jets after a Chinese vessel sailing in disputed waters launched a drone, the latest bout of tension in a longstanding territorial row.
The two nations are at odds over a group of small uninhabited islands in the East China Sea administered as the Senkakus by Japan, but claimed as the Diaoyutais (釣魚台) by Taiwan and China.
Japanese Cabinet spokesman Yoshihide Suga told a regular briefing that the incident took place on Thursday and that Japan lodged a “strong protest,” accusing China of “unilaterally escalating” tensions.
Japan dispatched four planes, including two F-15 jets and airborne warning and control system plane to waters surrounding the islets, the Japanese Ministry of National Defense said.
Coastguard ships from the two nations routinely patrol the area, known for rich fishing grounds and possible energy reserves, to back up their claims.
The countries have also occasionally engaged in potentially dangerous encounters in the air and at sea over the dispute, but have avoided actual conflict.
The latest incident came as the Japan Coast Guard said four Chinese ships entered Japanese territorial waters on Thursday. “This is the first time we see what appears to be a drone flown by Chinese ships that are sailing within territorial waters,” Suga said.
“This is a new form of activity by China,” he added.
“We strictly protested that this is a unilateral escalation and that we absolutely cannot accept it,” he said.
Japan has said its military scrambled a record number of jets last year, mostly in response to an increase in approaching Chinese aircraft.
Tokyo ordered its jets to the skies 1,168 times in the fiscal year through March, with 73 percent of the missions against aircraft either known to be or believed to originate from China.
Japanese officials believe China has been trying to analyze the capacity and response patterns of Japan’s defense and coastguard personnel.
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