Chinese fighter jets flew “abnormally close” to Japanese military surveillance planes in the East China Sea, the second incident in less than a month, Japan’s Ministry of Defense said.
Two Su-27 fighters came as near as 30 meters to one Japanese plane and 45 meters to another, according to Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. The incident happened over international waters between 11 a.m. and midday yesterday, the ministry said on its website. Japan’s Foreign Ministry protested via China’s embassy in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
The close encounters follow a near miss on May 24 amid tensions between China and Japan over disputed territory. Ships and planes from the countries have tailed one another around the East China Sea islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese since Japan bought three of them from a private owner in 2012. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has not held a summit with China since taking office in 2012.
“Beijing sees that Japan’s China policy has seriously regressed and the ball is in Japan’s court,” said Liu Jiangyong, professor of international relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “The overall tension is likely to continue to linger and the two countries have reached a crossroads.”
Territorial frictions are rising across both the East China Sea and South China Sea as China pushes its claims to islands, shoals and reefs, and as President Xi Jinping prioritizes a military with greater reach. Japan’s dispatches of fighter jets to pursue Chinese aircraft close to its airspace rose by a third in the year to March to a record 415 times.
“It is extremely regrettable and hard to forgive the fact that this has happened again, even though we made a stern protest and called for the prevention of any recurrence” after the last incident, Suga told reporters, calling the approach “extremely dangerous.”
Japan Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki will summon Chinese Ambassador Cheng Yonghua to lodge a protest, Kyodo News reported, citing a government official it did not identify.
“We urge all states to ensure that they respect the safety of aircraft in flight,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington. “All parties need to take steps to peacefully manage their differences and develop crisis-management procedures that can avoid miscalculations or further incidents at sea or in the air.”
Historical tensions have also tarnished ties between Japan and China. Japan protested to China over its application to register wartime documents with the United Nations as items of global significance, Suga told reporters yesterday.
China has applied to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization to register documents on the killing of civilians by Japanese soldiers in the Chinese city of Nanjing in 1937-1938 and on Japan’s forced recruitment of “comfort women” to serve in military brothels, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters on June 10.
“At a time when both Japan and China need to make efforts to improve ties, it is extremely regrettable that China is playing up one part of our shared past unnecessarily, a negative heritage, and using UNESCO for political purposes,” Suga said yesterday. He said Japan protested to China via its embassy in Tokyo, and called for the withdrawal of the application.
Documents in the UNESCO register include the Magna Carta, the English legal charter from 1215, and the diaries of Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who lived in hiding in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. Japan sparked anger from its neighbors earlier this year by seeking registration for the farewell letters written by kamikaze suicide pilots who tried to crash their planes into U.S. ships during World War II.
China has submitted “authentic, rare and precious documents with historical significance,” Hua said on June 10. The purpose of the move was to “memorize the history, treasure the peace, uphold the dignity of mankind and prevent behaviors against humanity, human rights and human being from happening again,” she said.