A Chinese plane entered Japanese airspace and flew over the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea Thursday morning, drawing condemnation from the Japanese government, and was the first time a Chinese official aircraft entered Japanese airspace in more than a half-century.
The Japanese Defense Ministry said it responded by sending eight F-15 fighter jets and sent an early warning aircraft from an air force base in Okinawa, reported Japanese broadcaster NHK. When they arrived, the plane had already left the area.
The Chinese plane was operated by the country’s State Oceanic Administration, according to Chinese state-run media. The aircraft in question is used for monitoring fishing activities.
This year, China has sent a number of ships to the Senkaku Islands and nationalist activists attempted to land on them before Japan took them away. The diplomatic row between the two countries prompted protests and boycotts of Japanese companies inside China.
China and, to a lesser extent, Taiwan both claim the Senkakus, but Japan says it has overseen the rocky and uninhabited islets since 1971. The islands are said to be located near deposits of natural gas, fishing grounds, shipping lanes, and potentially other resources.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura termed the Chinese plane flyover as “extremely deplorable” after Japan sent repeated warnings to the plane, reported the Kyodo news agency. Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai summoned a Chinese envoy to file a complaint.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the flyover of the Senkakus, which China calls Diaoyo, was “completely normal” and once again said the islets belong to China.
“The Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islets are an inalienable part of China’s territory, and it’s completely normal for a Chinese marine surveillance plane to fly over them,” Hong said, according to Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Xinhua.
Hong also reiterated that the diplomatic row between the two countries started after Japan purchased several of the islands from a wealthy Japanese businessman earlier this year. Tokyo made the purchase to formalize Japan’s ownership over them.
But in recent months, China has become increasingly aggressive in staking its claims over territory in the South and East China Seas. In a recent incident, Vietnam accused China of cutting a seismic cable on a surveyor ship in the South sea. China also attempted to claim waters off the Philippines, leading to a minor military standoff.
According to the Japan Daily Press, the last time an official Chinese plane flew into Japanese airspace was in 1958.
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