Japan scrambled more fighter jets than China in island spat during last quarter of '12
Japan scrambled fighter jets more frequently than Chinese planes in the last quarter of 2012 over the disputed islands in the East China Sea.
The move has underscored growing concerns that the territorial dispute between the two nations is escalating into more dangerous tensions in the sky.
The increase shows Tokyo is responding aggressively to Chinese planes entering areas inside and outside of what Japan considers its airspace over the East China Sea, where the two have squabbled bitterly over a group of small uninhabited islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
Japan's Self-Defense Forces has said the air force conducted 91 scrambles against Chinese aircraft in the three-month period, the largest quarterly tally since Tokyo started disclosing such data in 2005, the Wall Street Journal reports.
For decades, Japan has routinely dispatched fighter jets to keep foreign aircraft, mostly Russian jets, out of its airspace, but the number of scrambles against Chinese planes has been rising sharply in recent years.
During the first three quarters of the year that ends in March, Japan conducted 160 scrambles against Chinese planes, compared with 156 in the year ended March 2012, and 54 in the prior year, the report said.
According to the report, the latest quarterly number was up from 54 scrambles for the July-September period and 15 for April-June.
Diplomatic dialogue between the two nations aimed at resolving the dispute has been largely put on hold following a leadership change in Beijing in November and one in Tokyo in December.
In a move that alarmed officials from Tokyo and Washington, a patrol plane from China's State Oceanic Administration flew into the airspace above the disputed islands on December 13, undetected by Japanese military radar.
Once a coast-guard boat spotted it, the Japanese air force scrambled eight F-15 fighter jets, the report added.
Taking the confrontation one step further, China's defense ministry said on January 11 that Beijing sent in two of its J-10 fighters close to the airspace over the islands after a Chinese plane was followed by Japanese F-15 fighters, Xinhua reported.