Japan scrambles fighter jets after Beijing flies bombers over E. China Sea

Monday, November 20, 2017
By Paul Martin

20 Nov, 2017

Beijing dispatched intelligence-gathering aircraft as well as bombers through international airspace in the East China Sea. The move prompted Japan to scramble fighter jets in response, despite China calling the flyover a “regular” exercise.

The incident occurred on Sunday, when four Chinese H-6 bombers and two intelligence-gathering aircraft flew through the Miyako Strait between the islands of Okinawa and Miyako and back, the Japan Times reported. Japan scrambled its jets in response, although no violation of Japanese airspace was detected.

The move prompted Japan to ensure it would keep a close watch on the “expanding and increasing” actions of the Chinese military in the area. Beijing, meanwhile, accused Tokyo of blowing the incident out of proportion, stressing that it was part of “regular” drills.

Ren Guoqiant, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of National Defense, reiterated that the drills were legitimate. He said his country’s military will continue to organize similar exercises in the future, according to Chinese news outlet Sina.

Activities around the East China Sea are particularly sensitive for the two sides, which are embroiled in a dispute over the Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyu islands in China. The territories, which are 200 nautical miles south of Okinawa, are controlled by Japan.

Chinese military aircraft have routinely been spotted flying over waters near the islands. However, Japan’s Defense Ministry said last month that it had scrambled fighter jets a total of 287 times in the first half of fiscal 2017. That number represents a decrease of 120 from the same period in 2016.

Still, the ministry cited a rise in “unusual” flights, including an August drill in the skies above the Kii Peninsula which prompted Japan to express its concern “through diplomatic channels,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said at the time.

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