China has defended the flight of a government plane in disputed airspace near contested islands in the East China Sea, an incident that provoked a diplomatic dispute with Japan.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Friday Japanese aircraft and ships have entered waters around the islands since September. "The Foreign Ministry has demanded many times that the Japanese side cease their illegal activities in territorial aerospace and waters of the Diaoyu Islands, including withdrawing their aircraft," Hong Lei stated. "The Japanese have not responded. China's maritime surveillance plane protecting China's territorial sovereignty is totally normal.''
On Thursday, a Chinese surveillance plane was spotted near the disputed islands, prompting Japan to dispatch eight F-15 fighter jets to the area.
Japan also lodged an official protest and summoned China's ambassador in Tokyo.
Japan described the incident as the first ever "intrusion" by a Chinese plane into what Japan considers its airspace. Chine said the plane's mission was "completely normal."
The uninhabited islands, known in Japan as Senkaku and in China as Diaoyu, have been a source of major tension between the two Asian powers.