Japan scrambles F-15s after Chinese government plane flies near disputed East China Islands
First time Chinese aircraft has 'violated airspace over disputed islands'China says it is merely carrying out a normal operationJapan has issued formal protest after sending six F15s to the area



19:46 GMT, 13 December 2012

Japanese fighter jets were scrambled today after a Chinese plane was spotted over the disputed East China Sea Islands.

The F-15s were sent to the remote islands which are controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing as the territorial row between the two nations grows.

It is the first time a Chinese aircraft has violated the airspace over the islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

The Chinese government said it was carrying out a routine operation but Japan issued a formal protest before sending up to six planes to the area.

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A Chinese airplane flies in Japanese airspace

Spotted: Photo released by Japan 11th Regional Coast Guard shows a Chinese non-military aircraft in Japanese airspace above the islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese

Japanese F-15 jets

Dispatched: Japan scrambled four F-15 jets, (like these file pics) to the area but the Chinese aircraft was nowhere to be seen by the time they got there

Japans foreign ministry said the incident happened in the morning but the non-military Y-12 aircraft had left by the time they arrived.

The islands have been at the centre of a territorial dispute since the islands were bought by the Japanese government in September.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: 'I want to stress that these activities are completely normal.

'The Diaoyu and its affiliated islands are China's inherent territory since ancient times.

'China requires the Japanese side stop illegal activities in the waters and airspace of the Diaoyu islands.'

It was the first time a Chinese plane had entered Japanese airspace over the disputed islands, as the two previous reported violations were by other nations, in 1979 by a Soviet plane and in 1994 by a plane from Taiwan, defence agency official Takashi Inoue said.

Japan has controlled the East China Sea Islands since 1895 apart from a brief period after WWII when the U.S. took over jurisdiction until 1972

Japan has controlled the East China Sea Islands since 1895 apart from a brief period after WWII when the U.S. took over jurisdiction until 1972

Japan has claimed the islands since
1895 apart from a brief period after World War II when the U.S. took
over jurisdiction before they were handed back in 1972.

The 16.4million purchase from private Japanese owners sparked anti-Japanese rallies in China.

US assistant secretary of state Kurt Campbell, admitted that he was not yet fully briefed on the latest incident adding that the U.S. does not 'take a position on the sovereignty of these islands'.

'The security treaty between the U.S. and Japan applies to any provocative set of circumstances', he said at the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

'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.'

Japanese ships have been patrolling the area around the islands in the East China Sea, on the look-out for approaching Chinese ships.

Some analysts say China-Japan tensions are at their highest in years and Japanese exports have tumbled since relations soured.

VIDEO: America is appealing for calm in Asia…

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