Japan’s dispatches of fighter jets to pursue Chinese aircraft rose by a third in the past year to a record 415 times, reflecting growing tensions stemming from a territorial dispute in the East China Sea.
Planes and Coast Guard ships from both countries regularly tail one another around a chain of uninhabited islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Tensions over the dispute have led to a deterioration in Sino-Japanese relations at a time when both countries are increasing military spending.
The total number of times Japanese jets were sent up reached 810 in the year to the end of March, compared with 567 the previous year, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement on its website yesterday. Dispatches against Chinese aircraft made up 51 percent of the total, with the bulk of the remainder against Russian planes and nine against North Korea, according to the press release.
China’s Defense Minister Chang Wanquan this week accused Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of taking provocative actions around the islands and said his country would never back down on its territorial claims. Chang made his remarks at a press conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Beijing, who reiterated that the U.S. was committed to defending Japan in the event of a conflict.
“Great powers must resolve their disputes peacefully and responsibly,” Hagel said. “Strengthening the peace and avoiding conflict requires leadership and it requires cooperation, requires courage, requires reaching out.”
Tensions over the islands, which are under Japanese administration, have been on the rise since Sept. 2012, when the Japanese government bought three of the five islands from a private owner to prevent then Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara from buying them to force the issue of Japan’s territorial claim. That decision prompted anti-Japanese protests across China and led to boycotts of Japanese goods there.
China further fanned tensions in November when it declared an air defense identification zone over a large swath of the East China Sea covering the islands and demanded that all foreign aircraft report their flight plans to Chinese authorities.
To contact the reporter on this story: Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo at firstname.lastname@example.org