Jets scrambled in Japan-China island dispute

TOKYO - Japan scrambled eight fighter jets yesterday after a Chinese state-owned plane breached its airspace for the first time, over islands at the centre of a dispute between the countries.

It was the first incursion by a Chinese state aircraft into Japanese airspace anywhere since Tokyo's military began monitoring such moves in 1958, the Defence Ministry said.

The action marks a ramping-up of what observers suggest is a Chinese campaign to create a "new normal" - where its forces come and go as they please around islands that Beijing calls Diaoyu, but Tokyo controls as Senkaku.

F-15 jets were mobilised after a Chinese Maritime Surveillance aircraft ventured over the islands just after 11am (10am Singapore time), Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters.

"It was a fixed-wing Y-12 aeroplane belonging to the Chinese State Oceanic Administration. We confirmed that this aeroplane flew in our country's airspace," he said. "It is extremely regrettable. We will continue to resolutely deal with any act violating our country's sovereignty, in accordance with domestic laws and regulations."

He added that a senior Chinese diplomat had been summoned.

Japan mobilised eight F-15 jets and an E-2C early-warning aircraft, the Asahi Shimbun reported, citing a Defence Ministry source. But the incident appeared to have passed without any direct confrontation.

In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry said the Chinese Maritime Surveillance flight had been routine.