CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Japan Air Self-Defense Force jets scrambled Sunday to intercept eight Chinese military aircraft flying between Okinawa’s main island and Miyako Island as Beijing flexed its muscles in the region again.
While there was no violation of Japan’s airspace, the close encounter in the Miyako Strait by four Xian H-6 bombers, a Tupolev TU-154 reconnaissance plane, a Shaanxi Y-8 reconnaissance plane and two fighter jets was a rare show of force for the Chinese, who usually test Japan’s margins with a small number of submarines, boats or aircraft.
“This is the first time that Chinese military aircraft flew over the area,” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters. “It is assumed that the Chinese military conducted some training; however, I will refrain from elaborating on the training, including the purpose of the flight.”
Japan will closely monitor Chinese military’s activities, which have been intensifying and expanding in recent years, Suga said.
“We will continue to put all of our efforts into surveillance activities, and with compliance with international and self-defense law, we will conduct strict countermeasure operations against airspace violation,” he said.
Also troubling was China’s announcement this week that it would continue to patrol an Air Defense Identification Zone established in 2013, Suga said. The zone includes portions of the East China Sea’s high seas and airspace over the resource-rich Senkaku island chain claimed by Japan.
The Senkakus are covered in the defense treaty between Japan and the United States. The Chinese are demanding that any aircraft flying through the zone comply with Chinese procedures.
“It is absolutely unacceptable to Japan,” Suga said.
Incursions by Chinese aircraft and Japanese scrambles to intercept them have risen steadily since 2008, but have jumped sharply since 2012, when Japan nationalized the once privately owned Senkakus. There has been a record number of scrambles in recent months, including 200 between April and June alone.
Last month, Japan protested increased incursions by Chinese ships in Japanese-controlled waters near the Senkakus. China’s ambassador to Japan, Cheng Yonghua, was summoned, but the two sides were unable to find common ground.
Japan has also protested surface radar discovered on a Chinese gas-drilling platform.
The activity comes as China has also been aggressively expanding in the South China Sea on islands and shoals that are claimed by other countries.