East China Sea stand-off goes on

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China is “highly vigilant” about Japanese jet fighter flights over islands claimed by both countries, and Japan must bear responsibility for any consequences, Chinese military and maritime officials said yesterday.

The officials, speaking a day after a nationalist Japanese prime minister took office, were responding to Japan sending jet fighters several times in the past two weeks to intercept Chinese patrol planes approaching airspace above the islands.

The situation in the East China Sea region has strained relations between Beijing and Tokyo.

“We will decisively fulfil our tasks and missions while co-ordinating with relevant departments … so as to safeguard China’s maritime law enforcement activities and protect the country’s territorial integrity and maritime rights,” defence ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said.

Japan’s defence ministry has acknowledged scrambling F-15 jets on several occasions in
recent weeks to intercept Chinese marine surveillance planes approaching the islands, called the Diaoyu in Chinese and the Senkaku by Japan.

It says a Chinese aircraft breached what it considers Japanese airspace for the first time on 13 December.

New Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has promised not to yield in the dispute over the
islands and boost defence spending to counter Beijing’s growing military clout.

“The Japanese side is using military aircraft to interfere with planes on normal patrol in undisputed Chinese airspace,” said Shi Qingfeng, director general of the administration office of the State Oceanic Administration, the agency whose ships patrol disputed waters in the South and East China seas.

“This is highly unreasonable conduct and the Japanese side is consciously trying to escalate the situation,” Mr Shi said. “The Japanese side must assume responsibility for the consequences.”