TOKYO, April 9 Japanese fighter jet scrambles
against Chinese planes hit a record high in the year that ended
in March, the Defence Ministry said on Wednesday, as
Sino-Japanese ties were strained by disputes over territory and
interpretations of history.
Japan scrambled combat planes against Chinese aircraft 415
times during the year, up 36 percent from a year earlier. It was
the highest number since the ministry started disclosing
country-specific figures in 2001.
Relations have been plagued by China's memories of Japan's
occupation of parts of China before and during World War Two and
conflicting claims over a group of tiny East China Sea islets.
Tensions mounted further after China in November declared an
air defence identification zone covering a large swathe of the
East China Sea, including the disputed isles, and Japanese Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe's visit in December to Yasukuni Shrine, seen
by critics as a symbol of Japan's wartime aggression.
"As for China, we understand they are keeping up vigorous
activities," Akira Asai, public affairs director of the Defence
Ministry's Joint Staff, told a briefing.
Over the past year, Chinese fighter jets and other planes
appear to have expanded their range of activities, Asai said.
In one such instance, a Chinese Y-8 airborne early warning
plane flew for the first time through international airspace
near Japan's southern islands over the Pacific last July and
took the same route back over the East China Sea.
Scrambles against Russian planes rose 45 percent to 359
times during the year, also a record. As a result, Japan's total
scrambles came to 810 to hit a 24-year high.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Ron Popeski)