Japan protests over China's complaint about fighter jets

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan said on Monday it had protested to China over a Chinese complaint that Japanese fighter jets had engaged in “dangerous and unprofessional” behavior when they scrambled at the weekend as Chinese aircraft flew near Japanese islands.

A Chinese military plane H-6 bomber flies through airspace between Okinawa prefecture's main island and the smaller "Miyako island' in southern Japan, out over the Pacific, in this handout photo taken October 27, 2013 by Japan Air Self-Defence Force and released by the Joint Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan. Joint Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan/HANDOUT via Reuters/File Photo

Chinese military aircraft on Saturday flew between Japan’s Okinawa and Miyako islands, and over waterways near self-ruled Taiwan - seen by Beijing as a renegade province - as part of long-range exercises, Taiwan said.

Chinese defence ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said in a statement on Saturday that two Japanese F-15 fighter jets flew over the Miyako Strait and conducted “close range interference”, firing decoy flares and “jeopardizing the security of Chinese aircraft and pilots”.

Yang said China had grave concerns and lodged a protest over the behavior of the Japanese aircraft during what he called “routine” drills in international waters.

But Japan rejected China’s assertion.

“I have received a report from the defence minister that the Japanese planes did not conduct any close-range interference toward the Chinese military planes ... or threaten the safety of Chinese military planes or its personnel,” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

“The fact that China’s military unilaterally announced something clearly different from the facts is extremely regrettable and harms the improvement of relations between Japan and China, and we have strictly protested to the Chinese side,” he said.

Suga said Japan would watch the actions of the Chinese military, “which are expanding and increasing”, and make every effort towards “firmly protecting our country’s land, sea and air space and, in accordance with international and domestic law, take strict measures against any invasion of our airspace”.

In Beijing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang urged Japan to take steps to prevent “safety problems on the sea and in the air”.

He did not elaborate.

Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel