Japan scrambles fighter jets to intercept Chinese spy plane after South Korea lodges protest

Anti-submarine surveillance jet also sent out when PLA Navy frigate sailed through waters 100km northeast of Japan

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 July, 2018, 10:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 July, 2018, 11:13pm

Japan’s defence ministry said it scrambled fighter jets to intercept a Chinese electronic surveillance aircraft over the Sea of Japan, or East Sea, on Friday, after South Korea did the same when a PLA warplane entered its air defence identification zone the same day.

It was not immediately clear if the People’s Liberation Army Y-9 aircraft – which reportedly entered airspace over the Sea of Japan from the Busan Strait – was the same one Seoul said was in its air defence territory on Friday, prompting it to summon a Chinese embassy official to lodge a complaint.

The Japan Self-Defence Forces sent fighter jets after the Y-9, which flew from the East China Sea to near Socotra Rock – known as Ieodo in Korea and Suyan Rock in China – before flying over the Sea of Japan, according to a Japanese defence ministry statement.

The Chinese aircraft then returned along the same route to the East China Sea without entering Japanese airspace, the statement said.

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A Japanese P-1 anti-submarine surveillance jet was also sent out at about 2pm on Friday when a PLA Navy Type 054 frigate sailed through waters about 100km northeast to Japan near its Tsushima Island and into the East China Sea, the defence ministry said in a separate statement.

Japan’s defence ministry did not give any details of how long the Chinese spy plane or warship stayed in the area and did not say whether there was any direct interaction between the two sides.

It came after South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said a Chinese Y-9 aircraft had entered its air defence territory on Friday, spending more than four hours there after flying near a submerged rock in an area controlled by Seoul but claimed by Beijing.

South Korea’s air force sent F-15K fighter jets to warn the Chinese plane to leave, and hours later its defence ministry summoned a military attaché at the Chinese embassy in Seoul to lodge a protest.

China’s defence ministry did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

The latest reports of Chinese patrols come as Beijing and Tokyo are moving to improve relations that have long been strained over wartime history and territorial disputes over the uninhabited islets in the East China Sea known as the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyus in China.

As part of those efforts, China’s foreign ministry said earlier this month that Beijing had invited Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit the country, though the date has yet to be confirmed.

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Song Zhongping, a military commentator based in Hong Kong, said China’s recent military activities in the region had been carried out in line with international rules.

“China is seeking to improve the combat capability of its navy and air force with the goal of expanding its reach to the western Pacific and even the Indian Ocean,” Song said. “These [military activities] are part of the routine long-range training of the navy and air force, so neighbouring countries will have to get used to it.”