TOKYO May 25 Chinese fighter jets flew within a
few dozen metres of Japanese military planes over the East China
Sea, Japanese officials said on Sunday, prompting the defence
minister to accuse Beijing of going "over the top" in its
approach to disputed territory.
Chinese SU-27 fighters came as close as 50 metres (170 feet)
to a Japanese OP-3C surveillance plane near disputed islets on
Saturday and within 30 metres of YS-11EB electronic intelligence
aircraft, the ministry said.
"Closing in while flying normally over the high seas is
impossible," Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters in
comments broadcast on TV Asahi.
"This is a close encounter that is outright over the top."
Onodera said Japan conveyed its concerns to the Chinese side
through diplomatic channels. He also said the Chinese planes
were carrying missiles.
A ministry official said it was the closest Chinese
warplanes had come to aircraft of Japan's Self-defence force.
China's foreign ministry could not be immediately reached
Tensions have been running high between China and its
neighbours over Beijing's assertive stand on claiming land and
China lays claim to Japanese-administered islets in the East
China Sea, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.
It is also pressing its claim to almost all the South China Sea,
brushing aside claims by several southeast Asian states.
China's proclamation last November of an air defence zone
covering disputed islands and areas in the South China Sea have
raised concerns that a minor incident in disputed areas could
Sino-Japanese ties have long been strained by allegations
in China that Japan has not properly atoned for its wartime
aggression and by the spat over the uninhabited islands.
Japan scrambled fighter jets against Chinese planes 415
times in the year ended in March, up 36 percent on the year,
while in waters near the disputed islands, patrol ships from
both countries have been playing cat-and-mouse, raising fears of
an accidental clash.
Japanese land, sea and air forces joined last week to
simulate the recapture of a remote island, underscoring Tokyo's
concerns about the security of the islets.
Tensions between China and its neighbours have also risen
sharply in the South China Sea in recent weeks, following the
deployment of a Chinese oil rig in waters also claimed by
Vietnam. The deployment sparked anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam.
The Philippine foreign ministry this month accused China of
reclaiming land on a disputed reef in the South China Sea and
said it appeared to be building an airstrip.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Osamu Tsukimori and Paul
Carsten in Beijing; Editing by Ron Popeski)