Japan scrambles fighter jets to head off China plane

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan scrambled fighter jets on Monday to head off a Chinese government plane flying towards disputed islands in the East China Sea, the defence ministry in Tokyo said.

A Y-12 propeller plane flew about 100 kilometres from airspace around the Tokyo-controlled Senkakus, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus, the ministry said.

The aircraft headed back towards China without entering disputed airspace after Japan's military planes became airborne, defence officials said, declining to give further details.

In December, a similar plane from China's State Oceanic Administration breached airspace over the disputed islands, prompting the launch of Japanese F-15s.

It was the first known incursion by a Chinese plane into Japanese airspace, the government said at the time.

Monday's incident came as four Chinese coastguard ships sailed in the contiguous zone around the islands, Japan's coastguard said.

The moves were the latest in a series by Chinese government ships since Tokyo nationalised three islands in the chain last September, reigniting a long-simmering dispute.