China's defense ministry confirmed that Chinese and Japanese fighter jets had a confrontation over disputed waters in the East China Sea last month, adding to concerns that such close encounters could lead to mishaps that threaten regional stability.
The two Chinese jets were only carrying out a routine patrol when two Japanese fighters approached at high speed, Beijing said Monday. The Chinese pilots took “tactical measures” before the Japanese planes fled, its statement said. No details on the measures were given.
“Such provocative acts by the Japanese jets could easily cause accidents in the air, harming personal safety on both sides and destroying the peace and stability in the region,” the Chinese statement said. “We demand Japan to cease all provocative acts.”
Yohei Haneo, a spokesman for the Japanese defense ministry, on Tuesday denied the Japanese fighters took any provocative actions during the encounter, saying the jets were scrambling against Chinese aircraft.
The June 17 encounter took place near a set of barren islets claimed by both countries, called Diaoyu islands by Beijing and Senkaku islands by Tokyo. China in 2013 set up an air defense identification zone that covers the islands and overlaps with Japan's claim of air space for defense.
The Japanese defense ministry said Tuesday that Japan scrambled against Chinese military planes about 200 times in April, May, and June, up from last year's 80 times in the same period. Tokyo has expressed concerns over China's increased military activities in the region.
In mid-June, a Japanese surveillance plane spotted a Chinese intelligence ship entering Japan's territorial waters, described then as the first report of a Chinese navy vessel doing so in more than a decade.
In that instance, Japan expressed concern to China that that incident and other recent Chinese military activity was escalating tensions.
Earlier last month, Japanese officials summoned China's ambassador to protest the sailing of a Chinese navy ship near the disputed islands.