Japan's scrambles against Chinese planes soar

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japanese fighter jets scrambled against Chinese planes a record number of times from April to December, the Defence Ministry said on Tuesday, as Sino-Japanese ties are strained by an island spat and disputes stemming from Tokyo's wartime past.

Japan scrambled combat planes against Chinese aircraft 287 times in the nine-month period, a record high and up 79 per cent from the same period a year earlier.

Asia's two economic powers have been locked in a bitter territorial row over a group of tiny, uninhabited East China Sea islets called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

Ties deteriorated further in recent months after China's launch of an air defence identification zone over a large swathe of the East China Sea including the disputed islets, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited a controversial Tokyo shrine seen by critics as a symbol of Japan's past military aggression.

The number of scrambles against Russian planes during the same period grew 37 per cent from a year earlier to 246 times.

Japan and Russia have been embroiled in a long-standing dispute over several islands seized by Russia toward the end of World War Two that has prevented the two nations from signing a peace treaty.

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