China slams Japan over close military jet encounter
According to a statement released by the Chinese ministry, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) scrambled two F-15 fighter jets to shadow Chinese warplanes that were flying over the Miyako Strait as part of a “routine training exercise in the Western Pacific.”
The ministry’s spokesman, Senior Colonel Yang Yujun, said in the statement that the Japanese jets “endangered the safety of the Chinese aircraft and the crew” by approaching at a close range and “launching jamming shells.”
He then went on to stress that the Miyako Strait that lies between Japanese Miyako Island and Okinawa Island is an international waterway and China’s military training there is “in line with related international laws and practices.”
Yang also said that the exercises were “within its annual training plan” and were “not directed at any particular country or target.” He denounced the Japan’s actions as “dangerous and unprofessional” and stressed that such behavior threatens the freedom of navigation and over-flight.
"It must be pointed out that the various interferential activities initiated by the Japanese military aircraft and ships in recent years can easily lead to misunderstanding and misjudgment, resulting in disputes and even conflicts in the sea and air space," Yang added.
The Chinese ministry’s spokesman called on Japan to take measures to avoid similar incidents in the future as well as to respect the “overall interests of China-Japan relations.”
The incident comes two weeks after Chinese aircraft were shadowed by two Japanese jets during a similar exercise in late November. At that time, the Chinese planes were also passing through the Miyako Strait near Japan's Okinawa island, which hosts a large portion of the US military troops stationed in the country.
The two fighters entered the passageway from the direction of the South China Sea, met the bombers and surveillance aircraft returning from the Philippine Sea, and convoyed them back to China, according to Tokyo. At that time, no incidents were reported.
Similar training was conducted by China in September. Earlier, Beijing announced that it would organize regular military training flights past what China calls the first island chain – which lies between mainland China and the western Pacific, and includes Japan’s Ryukyu Islands and China’s Taiwan.
The Chinese forces pay special attention to the Miyako Strait in their drills, as it is one of the few international waterways via which the Chinese army can access the Pacific Ocean from the East China Sea, Chinese media reports.
On Sunday, Japan’s Defense Ministry refuted China’s claims, saying that its fighter jets had been scrambled “in compliance with strict procedures that are based on international law and the law governing the Self-Defense Forces,” according to the Japan Times.
The ministry said it is “not a fact” that Japanese jets fired “jamming shells” at Chinese aircraft. It also insisted that the statement issued earlier on Saturday by China’s Defense Ministry “clearly differs from the facts” and is “extremely regrettable, as it is something that damages relations between Japan and China.”