Skip to main content

Close call as China scrambles fighter jets on Japanese aircraft in disputed territory

By Tim Hume, CNN
May 26, 2014 -- Updated 1923 GMT (0323 HKT)
This disputed islands in the East China Sea are known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
This disputed islands in the East China Sea are known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • China scrambled jets to meet Japanese military aircraft in disputed airspace Saturday
  • Japanese officials said it was the closest Chinese jets had flown to their planes
  • It came as China was holding naval exercises with Russia in the region
  • Both countries blame the other and have complained about the incident

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Territorial tensions between China and Japan have flared after a close encounter between their military jets in disputed airspace over the East China Sea.

The neighboring rivals accused each other of potentially triggering a dangerous incident, after two pairs of Chinese fighter jets were scrambled and flew unprecedentedly close to a Japanese OP-3C surveillance plane and a YS-11EB electronic intelligence aircraft Saturday.

The fly-bys occurred in airspace claimed by both countries as part of their "air defense identification zones," while China carried out joint maritime exercises with Russia at the weekend.

Japan claims the flights were part of a routine reconnaissance mission near a group of uninhabited islands claimed by both nations, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

Japan, China in dispute over claimed space
Tensions rise over Asian islands
Japan arrests 14 pro-China activists

Meanwhile, China's Ministry of National Defense described the move as a justified enforcement of the country's air defense zone.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said it was the closest that Chinese jets had come to Japanese aircraft -- passing about 30 meters from one plane and 50 meters from another.

"We believe this proximity and behavior does not follow common sense," he said.

He said the flight crews reported the Chinese planes were armed with missiles. "The crews were on edge as they responded."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters Monday that Japan had lodged a protest to China through diplomatic channels over the incident.

"This should never happen," he said.

Beyond meeting the Japanese aircraft, the Chinese jets took no further action, and the Japanese pilots returned to base.

READ MORE: China's 'air defense identification zone,' explained

In response, a statement from China's Ministry of National Defense blamed Japan for the incident, saying that the Chinese and Russian navies had issued "no-fly" notices in the area ahead of the maritime drill.

According to the statement, carried by Chinese state media, the ministry had since lodged a complaint with Japan and called on it to "stop all surveillance and interference activities." "Otherwise, all the consequences that might be caused will be borne by the Japanese side," read the statement.

An image of a Chinese fighter jet released by Japan\'s Defense Ministry after the incident.
An image of a Chinese fighter jet released by Japan's Defense Ministry after the incident.

Tensions in recent years over China's increasingly assertive stance towards territorial claims escalated in November when it unilaterally declared an "air defense identification zone," or ADIZ, that included stretches of disputed territory.

An ADIZ is essentially a buffer zone outside a country's sovereign airspace, in which nations request that approaching aircraft identify themselves. The United States and Japan have both declared such zones around their territories.

Both countries immediately challenged China's declaration of its ADIZ in November, with the United States sending two unarmed B-52 bombers through the airspace without notifying Chinese authorities.

The disputed island standoff regularly sees the coast guards of China and Japan tail each other around the island chain.

While the islands are uninhabited, their ownership would allow for exclusive oil, mineral, and fishing rights in surrounding waters, and their status has been a regular flashpoint in Sino-Japanese relations.

Near miss between jets at Houston airport

Planes nearly collide off Hawaii

Drone, jetliner nearly collided over Florida

CNN's Yoko Wakatsuki and Dayu Zhang contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1915 GMT (0315 HKT)
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, shot while standing guard at Ottawa's National War Memorial, was known for his easygoing manner and smile.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Non-stop chatter about actress' appearance is nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2058 GMT (0458 HKT)
Air New Zealand's new 'Hobbit' safety video stars Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, elves and orcs.
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
A 15-year-old pregnant girl is rescued from slavery, only to be charged with having sex outside of marriage, shocked rights activists say -- a charge potentially punishable by death.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 0333 GMT (1133 HKT)
After sushi and ramen, beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1607 GMT (0007 HKT)
Airports judged on comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1748 GMT (0148 HKT)
Scientists use CT scans to recreate a life-size image of the ancient king.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 0959 GMT (1759 HKT)
Despite billions spent on eradicating poppy production, Afghan farmers are growing bumper crops, a U.S. government report says.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
With so many new attractions on the way, the next few years are going to be a roller coaster ride.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
Thomas Malthus famously predicted that rising populations would create a food crunch: Could this be true?
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1033 GMT (1833 HKT)
From "Sick Man of Europe" to the world's fourth largest economy.
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT