Tokyo: In an incident that could further fuel tensions between Beijing and Tokyo, a Chinese airplane entered the Japanese airspace over disputed islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, on Thursday.
As a result, Japan mobilised four F-15 jets, which headed to the area on Thursday morning, , but the Chinese plane, a Y-12, a non-military type of aircraft, was nowhere to be seen by the time they got there.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry said a formal protest was sent to the Chinese government through the embassy in Japan after the Chinese Oceanic Administration plane entered airspace over the disputed islands in the East China Sea at around 11 am.
Japan's coast guard reported that Chinese surveillance ships were seen in waters near the islands earlier in the day.
Also, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osama Fujimura told reporters: “Despite our repeated warnings, Chinese government ships have entered out territorial waters for three days in a row".
"It is extremely regrettable that, on top of that, an intrusion into our airspace has been committed in this way.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry, however, said that Japan should halt entries into seas and airspace near disputed islets in the East China Sea.
"I want to stress that these activities are completely normal. The Diaoyu and its affiliated islands are China's inherent territory since ancient times," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said of the plane. "China requires the Japanese side stop illegal activities in the waters and airspace of the Diaoyu islands."
Japan recently nationalised the Senkaku Islands by purchasing three of the five islands, all of which have long been under Japanese control, from a private owner. The move sparked a chain reaction changing the nature of Japan’s relations with the other two claimants to the territory, China and Taiwan. Japan claims it has occupied the islands, potentially contain large reserves of hydrocarbons, since 1895, while China maintains the islands were recognised as Chinese as early as 1783.
Japanese ships have been patrolling the area on the lookout for approaching Chinese ships.
Chinese ships have darted in and out the waters in that area in recent months. It was the first time a Chinese plane entered Japanese airspace over the disputed islands, as the two previous reported violations were by other nations, in 1979 by a Soviet plane and in 1994 by a plane from Taiwan, Defence Agency official Takashi Inoue said.
(With Agency inputs)
First Published: Thursday, December 13, 2012, 12:12