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Japan Alerts Jets After China Plane Nears Isles, Yomiuri Says

Japan mobilized its fighter jets after confirming a Chinese state-owned airplane had flown toward disputed islands, the Yomiuri newspaper reported on its website last night, citing Japan’s Ministry of Defense.

The Chinese propeller plane approached the uninhabited islands known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, and left without entering Japan’s airspace, Yomiuri said. The ministry did not answer phone calls seeking comment today. China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a fax seeking comment on the report.

Yesterday’s incident was the second time in a month Japan dispatched fighter jets in response to Chinese airplanes approaching the islands which are claimed by both countries.

Japan dispatched eight F-15 fighter jets to the area on Dec. 13 after its Coast Guard spotted a Chinese marine surveillance plane near the isles, with its foreign ministry describing the flight as a “further dangerous act” that “escalates the situation.” China protested a day later that Japanese military planes entered its airspace near the islands.

The dispute over control of the islands in the East China Sea has strained relations between Asia’s two biggest economies and stoked concerns of an arms buildup in the region. Japan’s new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, vowed in his New Year message to “defend our land, airspace and territorial waters.”

The latest crisis in the longstanding dispute was triggered by the Japanese government’s purchase in September of three of the disputed islands from their private Japanese owner.

China last month filed a report with the United Nations detailing grounds for its sovereignty claims over the islands in an area rich in oil, natural gas and fish.

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