Japan scrambled some fighter jets on Wednesday in response to a flyby from a Chinese military aircraft. The Chinese plane flew through international airspace near Japan’s southern islands and over the Pacific.
But while the Chinese military plane stayed in international airspace, Japan saw the move as underlining its neighbor’s maritime expansion.
Ties between the two Asian nations have been strained in the past year, because of a dispute over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, reports Reuters.
Japan’s Defense Ministry announced it had scrambled jets after a Chinese Y-8 airborne early warning plane flew through the airspace between Okinawa and Miyako island in southern Japan. The flyby happened around noon. The Chinese plane took the same route back later over the East China Sea.
While the Chinese government did not comment on the flight, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera stated of the incident, “I believe this indicates China’s move toward further maritime expansion.”
The tension between Japan and China escalated last September when Japan purchased three of the disputed islands from a private Japanese owner. Patrol ships and aircraft from both nations have since shadowed each other in the sea and skies around the region. The close encounters have led to fears of a possible collision and resulting escalation into war.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promised to take a firm stance in the situation. It is likely Japan’s scrambling of jets on Wednesday was part of that. Despite the hard line, Abe has added that Japan’s door is open to dialogue with China about the dispute.
Along with the Chinese aircraft, The Global Post notes that four Chinese ships were also spotted in the waters around the disputed islands. it is believed that the islands and the area around them may contain oil and gas reserves. They are also located in a rich fishing ground.