Tags: japan | scrambles | jets | china | flyover

Japan Scrambles Jets After China's Flyover Near Southern Islands

Thursday, 25 Jul 2013 07:09 AM

By Michael Mullins

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Japan scrambled fighter jets Wednesday in response to a Chinese military flyover through international airspace in close proximity to its southern islands.

Japanese officials viewed the flyover as an expression of China's push for maritime expansion in the region.

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According to Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, on Tuesday around noon, a Chinese Y-8 early warning plane flew over the main island of Okinawa and the smaller Miyako island in southern Japan.

The aircraft later took the same route back over the East China Sea, Reuters reported.

"I believe this indicates China's move toward further maritime expansion," Onodera told reporters in comments carried on public broadcaster NHK.

Chinese officials have yet to comment on the incident.

Relations between the Asian nations have been strained due to a territorial dispute over an uninhabited group of small islands located just northeast of Taiwan, which are controlled by Japan.

China has disputed Japan's sovereignty over the islands, which are referred to in China as the Diaoyudao Islands and in Japan as the Senkaku Islands.

Japan has controlled the islands since 1895 through the end of World War II, at which point the U.S. gained control over them until the islands were given back to Japan in 1972.

China, meanwhile, claims to have discovered and controlled the islands since the 14th century.

The islands are known for their rich fishing grounds and are believed to contain large oil and gas reserves in the surrounding sea floor.

Last September, tension escalated between China and the land of the rising sun when the Japanese government purchased three of the disputed islands from a private Japanese owner, Reuters reported.

Since the incident, both nations have been monitoring one another closely, patrolling ships and aircraft in the seas and skies around the islets, giving way to concerns that an unintended collision could occur and lead to a more substantial clash between China and Japan.

After winning a decisive victory in Japan's upper house elections on Sunday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to take a firm stance on the territorial dispute and said he was open to dialogue during the news conference following his election win.

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