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Plane guarding islands' sovereignty sparks Japanese fighter response
Chinese and Japanese aircraft were involved in a standoff in the skies above the Diaoyu Islands on Thursday.
The situation remains under control, but Tokyo seems intent on upping the ante, observers said.
A Chinese marine surveillance plane, B-3837, was sent to join vessels patrolling the territorial waters around the islands, which belong to China, on Thursday morning, said a statement issued by the State Oceanic Administration on its website.
The plane arrived in the area at about 10 am and conducted joint patrols with a fleet of four surveillance ships.
The fleet ordered the Japanese ships that had entered China's territorial waters to leave the area immediately, the statement said.
Warned by the Japanese coast guard, the Chinese aircraft responded that it was flying in Chinese airspace, Japan's JiJi Press quoted the coast guard's 11th regional headquarters in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, southern Japan as saying.
The Japanese Air Self-Defense Force scrambled F-15 fighter jets to the area, Japan's Kyodo News Agency reported.
Japan's Defense Ministry accused the air patrol of an "airspace intrusion".
Japan's Vice-Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai summoned Chinese diplomat Han Zhiqiang to the Foreign Ministry in the early afternoon to lodge a protest, according to the Kyodo News.
Han asserted that the islands belong to China and declined to accept the protest. The diplomat noted that China hopes to resolve the dispute in a peaceful manner through communication between the two countries.
It was the first "incursion" by a Chinese aircraft into "Japanese airspace" since Tokyo began monitoring in 1958, Japan's Defense Ministry said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday blasted the Japanese F-15 fighters' attempt to intercept the Chinese patrol plane.
"Flying a marine surveillance airplane in airspace above the Diaoyu Islands is completely normal. China urges Japan to stop illegal actions in the waters and airspace of the Diaoyu Islands," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.
Li Guoqiang, deputy director of the Center for Chinese Borderland History and Geography at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Tokyo's protest and over-hyped media reports confirm its refusal to accept the fact that China has sovereignty over the islands.
Ties between the two countries ran into problems after the Japanese government illegally purchased some of the islands in September.
China has taken a series of countermeasures to assert sovereignty, including constantly patrolling waters off the islands.
Japan has been trying to play up its so-called "actual control" over the Diaoyu Islands airspace to fool the international community, said Wang Xinsheng, a professor of Japanese studies at Peking University.
The incident comes just days ahead of Japan's general election on Sunday.
According to opinion polls, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party is likely to return to power with hawkish former prime minister Shinzo Abe at the helm.
Abe has vowed to take a tough stance over the islands, and he has also promised to boost spending on defense.
However, China's determination to guard the islands will not lessen, Wang Xinsheng said.
"The recent patrols are sending messages that the Japanese should face up to reality," Wang said.
US Assistant Secretary of State For East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell reiterated on Thursday that Washington does not take a position on the dispute, but the islands fall within the scope of a 1960 US-Japan security treaty that requires the US military support for Japan.
"We are encouraging all sides to take appropriate steps so that there will be no misunderstanding or miscalculation that could trigger an environment that would be antithetical to peace and stability," Campbell told reporters in Malaysia.
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Reuters, Wu Jiao and Liu Yedan contributed to this story.
(China Daily 12/14/2012 page1)