79% rise in scrambles against China planes

TOKYO - Japanese fighter jets scrambled against Chinese planes a record number of times in the April-December period, Japan's defence ministry said yesterday.

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.

The two powers are locked in a bitter row over a group of uninhabited East China Sea islets called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

Ties deteriorated further recently 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's controversial visit to the Yasukuni 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 are embroiled in a dispute over several islands seized by Russia towards the end of World War Two. Japan calls the disputed islands the Northern Territories, and Russia administers them as the Southern Kurils.