Japan scrambles jets to Diaoyu Islands

Japan scrambles jets to Diaoyu Islands

Japna scrambled fighter jets yesterday to head off a number of Chinese military planes near the Diaoyu Islands, on the same day that China pledged to guard its maritime rights from being violated by Japan and two other countries.

The Chinese planes were spotted on Japanese military radar north of the islands, the Fuji TV network reported, quoting Japanese government officials.

They did not "violate territorial airspace" but flew inside Japan's "air defense identification zone," the report said.

The Japanese defense ministry press office did not confirm the report.

The Chinese planes were gone by the time F-15 jet fighters from an airbase on Okinawa reached the area, the report said.

Chinese ships and planes have been seen off the islands many times since September when Japan is said to have bought them from a so-called private owner.

On Wednesday, the Sankei Shimbun newspaper said the number of Chinese military planes nearing Japanese territory had increased since September.

The paper said Japan's air force had scrambled fighter jets to intercept Chinese military aircraft numerous times over the past few months. Japanses defense officials said they could not confirm the report.

F-15s were sent to head off Chinese state-owned - but not military - planes four times in December, including an occasion when "Japanese airspace" was breached, the defense ministry has said. They were also mobilized once last week, it said.

Meanwhile, Japan is today expected to approve a huge stimulus package aimed at breathing life into its flagging economy.

Around 180 billion yen (US$2.1 billion) of the total 20 trillion yen set to be announced is expected to be allocated to military spending.
A defense ministry spokesman said the cash would be used to buy missiles, helicopters and to refurbish fighter jets.

Yesterday, China said it would "steadfastly" oppose any infringement on the country's sovereignty over territorial waters by Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

The country will continue regular patrols over its territorial waters off the Diaoyu Islands and the South China Sea, Liu Caigui, director of the State Oceanic Administration, told a national maritime conference.

"Faced with a sharper and more complicated situation, we will take more responsibilities to steadfastly maintain the country's maritime rights and interests," Liu said.