Japan will continue surveillance activities around its waters after Chinese jets made a “dangerous” approach to its intelligence-gathering planes, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said today.
Chinese Su-27 fighter jets armed with missiles came within about 30 meters (100 feet) of one Japan Self-Defense Forces plane and about 50 meters of another on May 24, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters yesterday.
The incident came amid heightened tensions between Japan and China over uninhabited East China Sea islands claimed by both countries. Coast guard ships constantly tail one another in the area surrounding the isles known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. The encounter between the aircraft came during the first joint naval exercises between China and Russia in the East China Sea.
“We will continue to conduct surveillance activities in neighboring waters in order to resolutely protect our country’s land, air and sea territory,” Suga told reporters.
The incident was the closest recorded encounter between Chinese and Japanese military planes since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, according to Ni Lexiong, director of national defense policy research at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.
“It was very rare and dangerous,” said Ni. “Both Tokyo and Beijing wanted to show they wouldn’t go soft on each other’s provocations. They’re testing each other’s bottom line.”
The close air approaches took place in an area where the air defense identification zones of the two nations overlap, Onodera said on Sunday. China’s Defense Ministry said Japan must stop intruding into airspace where its navy is conducting the exercises with Russia, or bear responsibility for possible consequences.
The Japanese action was “really very dangerous and provocative,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in Beijing today. “China announced where it would be carried out. But in disregard, the Japanese side sent its aircraft to China’s East China Sea air defense zone to disrupt the joint military drill between China and Russia. That is the fact.”
The incident took place outside the area specified for the joint maneuvers being conducted by China and Russia, Suga said, denying that Japan had interfered with the exercises. Such monitoring activities are allowed under international law, he said.
Onodera denied that the Japanese planes were specifically engaged in monitoring China’s joint exercises with Russia. Today, he told a parliamentary committee that there had been no advance radio warning from the Chinese side.
Suga called on China to act with restraint and said Japan would continue to urge China to bring into force a maritime communications mechanism to avoid unforeseen incidents at sea.