TOKYO (AFP) - Japan scrambled fighter jets on Monday after an unidentified drone flew near Tokyo-controlled islands at the centre of a bitter dispute with China, a defence ministry spokesman said.
It was the first reported incident of its kind.
Japan's Air Self-Defence Force sent an unspecified number of jets to the area, the official said.
The drones did not enter Japanese airspace, the official said.
A second Japanese defence ministry official said the nationality of the drone was not clear, but added that it came from the north-west and and was last seen flying back in that direction.
China does have drones but when asked about the incident, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: "I am not aware of the situation."
On Sunday, Japan scrambled fighter jets against two Chinese bombers that flew from the East China Sea into the Pacific, through a gap between islands in the Okinawa chain, the defence ministry said.
And two weeks ago, fighters were dispatched to head off a Chinese government plane flying towards the Senkaku islands, which Beijing calls the Diaoyus and claims as its own.
A Y-12 propeller plane flew about 100 kilometres from airspace around the islands on August 26, before heading back towards China after Japan's military planes became airborne.
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.
Friday's reports came as four Chinese coastguard ships sailed in the so-called contiguous zone that surrounds territorial waters around the islands.
It was the latest in a series of such sorties by Chinese government ships since Tokyo nationalised three islands in the chain last September, reigniting a long-simmering dispute.