May 25, 2014 5:00 pm JST

China says fighters scrambled after SDF planes entered its ADIZ

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Chinese Defense Ministry said Sunday that the country's military scrambled fighter jets the previous day in response to Japanese Self-Defense Forces aircraft entering an air defense identification zone that China unilaterally established over the East China Sea last year.

     According to the ministry announcement, an OP-3C surveillance plane of the Maritime Self-Defense Force and a YS-11EB of the Air Self-Defense Force entered China's ADIZ and "monitored and interfered with a joint military drill by the navies of China and Russia." In response, the Chinese fighters were scrambled and necessary identification and security measures were taken, it said.

     It added that China protested the monitoring by the Japanese side, and requested it to cease "all activities of monitoring and obstructing" the exercise.

     It is the closest that Chinese fighters have come to SDF aircraft, the Japanese Defense Ministry earlier said, adding one of the two Chinese fighters came within roughly 30 meters of an SDF plane.

     The incident, which happened in airspace where the two countries' air defense identification zones overlap, drew sharp criticism from Japan's defense minister.

     The development is likely to fuel tensions between the two countries which have been at odds over Beijing's claim to Japanese-controlled islets in the East China Sea and conflicting perceptions of history.

     According to the Japanese ministry, an OP-3C surveillance plane of the MSDF was approached closely by a Chinese fighter jet around 11 a.m. Saturday above the East China Sea.

     About an hour later, another Chinese fighter flew close to a YS-11EB plane of the ASDF in the same airspace, the ministry said.

     The jets were identified as Chinese SU-27 fighters. One flew roughly 50 meters from the MSDF aircraft while the other flew as close as 30 meters to the ASDF aircraft, the ministry said.

     The airspace where the incidents occurred is above the high seas, it said.

     Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters Sunday the Chinese were out of line.

     Such actions "could lead to an accident," Onodera said at the Defense Ministry. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who was briefed by Onodera on Saturday night about the incidents instructed him to continue to address the matter firmly, the defense minister said.

     The SU-27 fighters are equipped with missiles, Onodera said, adding that Japan scrambles SDF fighters if it deems it necessary to conduct special monitoring of a Chinese plane.

     "We also took necessary measures this time," he said.

     Tokyo notified Beijing of the incidents through diplomatic channels, Onodera also said Saturday in a statement.

     The two SDF aircraft were monitoring a joint naval drill by China and Russia in the sea near Japanese territorial waters, a government source said.

     Tensions between the two economic giants in Asia remain high, with critics warning of the possibility of a clash between the Chinese military and the SDF in the East China Sea.

     In January 2013, a Chinese warship locked its pre-firing radar on a Japanese destroyer in the East China Sea. In November the same year, China unilaterally established an air defense identification zone partly overlapping that of Japan above the East China Sea.

     China has also sought to strengthen its claim over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands by frequently sending patrol ships near the uninhabited islets.

     Amid the tense climate, ASDF fighters have been scrambled in response to Chinese aircraft in or near Japanese airspace 415 times in fiscal 2013 through March, up 109 from the previous year.