TOKYO Japan scrambled fighter jets against Chinese planes twice as often in the year that ended in March as it did a year earlier, the Defence Ministry said on Wednesday, amid a territorial dispute over a group of East China Sea islands.
The number of scrambles against Chinese planes nearly doubled to 306, accounting for the increase in the number of overall scrambles from 425 to 567, the highest level in 22 years.
During the year to March 31, Japan experienced two cases of what it said was actual encroachment into its air space, one by China in December and the other by Russia in February.
The waters around the disputed islands, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, are rich fishing grounds and have potentially huge oil and gas reserves.
The dispute has escalated in recent months to the point where China and Japan have scrambled fighter jets while patrol ships shadow each other, raising fear that an unintended collision could lead to a broader clash.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Nick Macfie)