TOKYO • Japan's military scrambled a record number of jets last year, mostly in response to an increase in approaching Chinese aircraft, the government said yesterday.
Tokyo ordered its jets to the skies 1,168 times in the fiscal year until March, the Defence Ministry said, with 73 per cent of the missions against aircraft either known to be or believed to originate from China.
"Activities of Chinese jets are on the rise in terms of their frequency, area and duration," said Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, head of Japan's Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"Considering the modernising trend of the Chinese military, we expect this to continue," he told a press conference.
"Recently, we have seen Chinese military aircraft operating farther south, and that is bringing them closer to the main Okinawa island and other parts of the island chain," he said.
Okinawa is home to the biggest concentration of US Marine Corp forces outside the United States, hosting the bulk of the roughly 50,000 US military personnel stationed in Japan.
The total number of scrambles marked an increase of 295 from the year before, the ministry said, noting that none of the cases resulted in violations of Japan's airspace.
Japan and China are at odds over a set of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that sit in rich fishing grounds.
The islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, are a running sore in Tokyo's relations with Beijing.
Japan has administrative control of the islets, but China claims they have been part of its territory for centuries.
The two countries have clashed diplomatically over their ownership, with both sides sending ships and aircraft to nearby waters to assert their claims.
Japanese officials believe China has been trying to analyse the capacity and response patterns of Japan's defence and coastguard personnel.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS