A group of disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japan and
Diaoyu in China is seen from the city government of Tokyo's
survey vessel in the East China Sea. Reuters file photo.
Japan has protested to China after a Chinese government
plane entered what Japan considers its airspace over disputed
islets in the East China Sea.
The incident prompted Japan's military to scramble eight F-15
fighter jets, the Defence Ministry said. Japanese officials
later said the Chinese aircraft had left the area.
Sino-Japanese relations took a tumble in September after
Japan bought the tiny islands, called Senkaku in Japan and
Diaoyu in China, from a private Japanese owner.
"Despite our repeated warnings, Chinese government ships have
entered out territorial waters for three days in an row,"
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osama Fujimura told
"It is extremely regrettable that, on top of that, an
intrusion into our airspace has been committed in this way,"
he said, adding that Japan had formally protested through
A Defence Ministry spokesman said as far as he knew it was
the first time this year that a Chinese plane had intruded
into airspace near the islands, which are under Japan's
But China said the flight by the Chinese aircraft was
"completely normal" and it called on Japan to stop entering
the waters and airspace near the islets.
"The Diaoyu islands and affiliated islands are part of
China's inherent territory. China's flight over the islands
is completely normal," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman
Hong Lei told a briefing in Beijing.
"The Chinese side calls on Japan to halt all entries into
water and airspace around the islands."
The incident comes just days before a Japanese election that
is expected to return to power the conservative Liberal
Democratic Party (LDP) with hawkish former prime minister
Shinzo Abe at the helm.
Abe has vowed to take a stern stance in the dispute over the
islands, which are near potentially huge maritime gas
reserves, and has said that the ruling Democratic Party's
mishandling of its diplomacy had emboldened China.
Abe has also promised to boost spending on defence including
on the coastguard.
Smaller Asian countries such as the Philippines have also
become increasingly worried about Beijing's growing military
assertiveness and its claims to disputed islands in the South
U.S. President Barack Obama urged Asian leaders during a
visit to the region in November to rein in tension over
Washington does not take a position on the sovereignty of the
islands but says they are clearly covered by a 1960 security
treaty obliging the United States to come to Japan's aid if
China says the islands are its "sacred territory" and says
its claim predates Japan's.
Patrol ships from the two countries have for several months
been shadowing each other in a standoff that has raised
concern that a collision or other incident could escalate
into a clash.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's nationalisation of
the islands in September was intended to keep them out of the
hands of a fiery nationalist politician, to head off a more
damaging confrontation with China.
But the Japanese move triggered a wave of protests in China
that shuttered Japanese factories and stores, disrupted trade
and prompted China to strengthen its own claim to the
Japanese carmakers saw their sales in China slump in the
weeks after the islands were sold