BEIJING • China has strongly criticised Japan over a scramble of military aircraft from the two countries amid a dispute concerning islands in the East China Sea.
Two Japanese fighter jets took "provocative actions" at a high speed near a pair of Chinese fighter jets that were carrying out patrols in the East China Sea on June 17, China's Defence Ministry said in a microblog statement yesterday, without specifying the exact location of the incident.
The Japanese planes used fire- control radar to "light up" the Chinese aircraft, the statement added.
A senior Japanese military officer acknowledged there was a scramble, but denied that any radar lock by the Chinese jet occurred or that the incident turned dangerous.
"The Japanese plane's provocative actions caused an accident in the air, endangering the safety of personnel on both sides, and destroying the peace and stability in the region," China's Defence Ministry said, adding that the Chinese aircraft "responded resolutely".
China called on Japan to cease all provocative action, the ministry added in the statement.
The statement about the incident comes after Japan's top military commander accused China of escalating military activity in the East China Sea, saying Japanese emergency scrambles to counter Chinese jets have almost doubled over the past three months.
Japan is embroiled in a dispute with China over ownership of a group of East China Sea islands lying about 220km north-east of Taiwan, known as the Senkakus in Tokyo and the Diaoyu islands in Beijing.
Japan is worried that China is escalating its activity in the sea in response to Tokyo's pledge to support countries in South-east Asia, including the Philippines and Vietnam, that oppose China's territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Last month, Japan's Vice-Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki summoned Chinese ambassador Cheng Yonghua in Tokyo after a Chinese frigate entered the "contiguous zone" just outside Japan-administered waters surrounding the contested islands. No Chinese naval vessel had been spotted there previously.
Responding, China's Defence Ministry said in a statement on its website: "The Diaoyu islands are China's inherent territory. It is legitimate and legal for Chinese vessels to sail in waters within our own jurisdiction. Other countries have no right to make carping remarks."
A contiguous zone is an area of water that extends as far as 24 nautical miles out from territorial seas. While the waters are considered international, countries claiming such a zone exercise control over the area for various purposes, including customs and sanitation.