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.
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The New York Times reports that today’s incident was an “embarrassment for the current administration” in Japan because its radar system failed to register the Chinese plane. The alert came from Japanese ships near the islands.Skip to next paragraph
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The Japan Daily Press notes that the coast guard has earned fame from the action surrounding the charged island dispute, “causing a surge in job applications and even inspiring a local box-office hit film.” However, the civilian-staffed guard is “being stressed and tested to its limits.”
[I]n order not to escalate the situation, the government isn’t using the military Self Defense Forces. Instead, it has tasked the Coast Guard, composed of civilians and run by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism. Although somewhat on par with their Chinese counterparts, the Coast Guard is being stretched thin. Its crew, used to shifts of at most two weeks, are on duty without time off for months. They are also forced to skip crucial training, in a time when they are expected to be able to ward off and restrain offenders both on sea and on remote islands. Ships also receive only temporary repairs instead of much-needed overhauls.
… The situation has become a rallying and unifying point of many of the political parties and candidates running for election in a few days, with promises of allocating funds and beefing up the Coast Guard to empower it to respond to situations and emergencies that the pacifist nation hasn’t faced in decades.
Today was the first time both countries have used planes in the dispute. Reuters reports that Japanese analysts are concerned over the use of aircraft.
"This is serious ... intrusion into Japan's airspace is a very important step to erode Japan's effective control over the area," said Kazuya Sakamoto, a professor at Osaka University.
"If China sends a military plane as a next step, that would really make Japan's control precarious."
Toshiyuki Shikata, a Teikyo University professor and a retired general, said the use of aircraft by both sides was significant.
"Something accidental is more likely to happen with planes than with ships," he said.
The uptick in interest in the islands is likely linked to the potential for oil and gas in surrounding waters, but “For most of human history,” The Christian Science Monitor’s China bureau chief Peter Ford wrote this fall, “the five rocky islets in the eye of the current diplomatic storm between China and Japan have sat in remote and irrelevant obscurity, lapped by the tropical waters of the East China Sea.”
Japan bases its claim to the islands, which it calls the Senkaku, on a cabinet decision in January 1895 whereby because there was no trace of anyone else controlling them they were deemed "terra nullius," nobody else's, and Tokyo incorporated them into its territory.
China disputes that claim, pointing to 15th-century accounts of sea voyages by Chinese envoys and a 17th-century map of China's sea defenses, among other documents, to show that "the Diaoyu islands were first discovered, named, and exploited by the Chinese," in the words of a Foreign Ministry statement.
IN PICTURES - Troubled waters: disputes in the China Seas