Japanese, Chinese military aircraft spar again in airspace above Western Pacific

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Japanese, Chinese military aircraft spar again in airspace above Western Pacific

by: Jesse Johnson | .
Japan Times, Tokyo | .
published: December 13, 2016

TOKYO (Tribune News Service) — China and Japan have continued their recent tit-for-tat moves in the airspace above the Western Pacific, with aircraft from the two Asian giants on Saturday again engaging in an apparently tense encounter over the high seas between Okinawa’s main island and Miyako Island.

The Defense Ministry in Tokyo said the Air Self-Defense Force had scrambled fighter jets after six Chinese military aircraft flew through the strategically important Miyako Strait, bound for the Pacific, adding that there was no violation of Japanese airspace.

The ministry’s Joint Staff Office said that the six Chinese planes consisted of two Su-30 fighters, two H-6 bombers, one Tu-154 surveillance plane and one Y-8 surveillance plane. The Su-30 fighters crossed the strait and then made a U-turn to head toward the East China Sea while the surveillance planes and bombers headed toward the Bashi Channel, south of Taiwan.

China’s Defense Ministry slammed the scramble, saying that it had made “solemn representations” over the Japanese fighter jets, which it said harassed and shot decoy projectiles at Chinese air force planes, spokesman Yang Yujun said in a statement.

“The Miyako Strait is a universally acknowledged international flight passage,” Yang said. “The exercise had been planned within this year’s air force training routine. It does not target any specific country nor objective and it adheres to international law and practices.”

A Japanese Defense Ministry official declined to reveal details about the scrambled ASDF jets, but said that their conduct was in accordance with international and SDF law, Jiji Press reported.

In a statement posted on its website, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry also noted the long-range exercises — the first such flights since a Dec. 2 telephone call between Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump stoked anger in Beijing.

Saturday’s flight mirrored a similar one by Chinese fighters and bombers through the area late last month. The ASDF also scrambled its fighters in response to that flight.

China has accused Japan of “unprofessional and dangerous” provocations — including radar lock-ons of military aircraft — amid a record spike in scrambles by the ASDF.

Beijing and Tokyo have seen a number of incidents in the air and at sea this year as a dispute over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea continues to boil. This has prompted concern over prospects of an accidental clash by the two Asian giants near the tiny islets, which are known as the Diaoyu in China.

China’s state-run Global Times newspaper said in a report Saturday that “it was rare for the Chinese Defense Ministry to announce such encounters between Chinese and Japanese air forces,” adding that it could be a signal Beijing “wishes to address similar situations more proactively.”

The two sides, however, remain at loggerheads over a maritime and air communication protocol intended to prevent accidental clashes between aircraft and vessels. Implementation has been stalled since Japan effectively nationalized the Senkakus in 2012.

In the meantime, Beijing’s forays into the Western Pacific and East China Sea are expected to continue.

China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force announced in mid-September that it will be organizing “regular” exercises that fly past the so-called first island chain — a strategically important entryway into the Western Pacific that includes Japan’s Ryukyu Islands and Taiwan.

The air force said it would focus on improving the quality of such drills, “flying over island chains, controlling the East China Sea and cruising the South China Sea.”

Experts say the extensive chains of Pacific islands that ring China are seen by some in Beijing as a barrier designed during World War II by the United States to contain China and its navy. But other Chinese military theorists reportedly view the island chains more as benchmarks or springboards for Chinese military operations.

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