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Terrorism & Security

Japan scrambles F-15s after China flies over disputed islands

The Chinese plane had already left the islands – known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan – by the time the Japanese F-15s arrived.

By Staff writer / December 13, 2012

In this photo, a Chinese airplane flies in Japanese airspace above the islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese in southwestern Japan Thursday, Dec. 13.

Japan Coast Guard 11th Regional Coast Guard/AP

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The territorial standoff between China and Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea further escalated today after a Chinese plane was spotted in what Tokyo considers its airspace.

Though the Chinese plane was not a military aircraft, its presence is the latest provocation in a dispute that has affected economic relations between the two countries and comes just three days before Japanese elections.

The Chinese state maritime agency said that the marine surveillance plane was sent to patrol the disputed islands – known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan – along with four boats, according to China’s Global Times. Japanese boats also patrolling the disputed area were asked to leave immediately, in line with the Chinese government’s stance, the Global Times reports.

Japan’s defense agency dispatched eight F-15 jets in response, but the Chinese plane had already left the area by the time they arrived, according to the Associated Press. The Japanese government also issued an official complaint, however China responded that it was “carrying out a normal operation,” reports AP.

“I want to stress that these activities are completely normal. The Diaoyu and its affiliated islands are China’s inherent territory since ancient times,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said of the plane. “China requires the Japanese side stop illegal activities in the waters and airspace of the Diaoyu islands.”

Osamu Fujimura, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, called the Chinese move “extremely regrettable.”

According to the Wall Street Journalan airspace violation could take the dispute to the next level.

International law forbids entering another nation's airspace without permission and gives countries the right to expel unauthorized aircraft with force immediately. In contrast, foreign ships are able sail through a nation's territorial waters as long as it is considered "innocent passage."

The incident also puts further pressure on [Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda], whose ruling Democratic Party of Japan is likely to face a decisive defeat in Sunday's elections, according to various national polls. Shinzo Abe, who's likely to take his job away, has criticized Mr. Noda for his handling of the territorial issues, and called for a confrontational approach focused on the use of "physical power," rather than diplomacy.

Mr. Abe is expected to invest more money into the Japanese coast guard and defense, Reuters reports. The coast guard has gained popularity since the confrontation reignited earlier this year, with the most recent escalation taking place after Japan purchased the islands from a private Japanese investor in September. The move inspired anti-Japanese rallies across China, “with people looting and torching Japanese-owned businesses,” according to The Christian Science Monitor.

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