Chinese jet fighters have approached the disputed Diaoyu Islands several times since late May, with one flying within 50km of Japan’s territorial airspace around the islets, a source in the Japanese government has said.
Tokyo scrambled its Air Self-Defence Force (ASDF) fighters in response, the source said, adding that it was “abnormal” for Chinese aircraft to get so close to the nation’s territorial airspace.
Chinese military planes had approached the islets in the East China Sea, which Japan calls the Senkaku Islands, more than three times since late May, the source said on Saturday.
Between April and June, Japan scrambled fighters against Chinese aircraft approaching its airspace a record 199 times, compared to 198 times in the preceding three months, the Defence Ministry said.
The eight uninhabited islands are claimed by mainland China, Taiwan and Japan.
In a white paper released by the defence ministry this month, Japan criticised China’s activities in the sea as “high-handed” unilateral actions that attempted to alter the status quo by force.
Kunio Orita, a former head of the Air Support Command, published a report online in late June, saying a scrambled ASDF plane left the area while employing a countermeasure to avoid a possible missile attack. The ministry has denied the report.
Tokyo has also voiced concerns over Chinese naval vessels that have sailed in and around Japanese territorial waters in the East China Sea, including in a contiguous zone around the Diaoyus.
Beijing rejected Tokyo’s claims and has expressed concern over planned visits by members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which honours war criminals among Japan’s war dead.
Japan’s embassy in China last week urged its citizens to pay attention to their safety there as sensitive anniversaries and territorial tensions might exacerbate anti-Japanese sentiments.
It said some incidents of harassment of Japanese citizens in China had been reported, although there had been no signs of a recurrence of the violent anti-Japanese protests of 2012.
The latest friction comes ahead of a Group of 20 summit in Hangzhou next month.
Observers say the tensions might cast a shadow over possible talks between Abe and President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the summit.