A pair of incidents involving fighter jets from China, Japan and the US over the South and East China seas has escalated an already tense situation. Several nations have claims of sovereignty over parts of the region.
Japan dispatched four planes, including two F-15 fighters and an airborne warning and control system (AWACS) plane to waters surrounding the islets, Japan’s Defense Ministry said on Friday.
“This is escalating the situation and is absolutely unacceptable,” Japan’s Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said. “We regard this as a serious infringement of Japan’s sovereignty.”
Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s senior government spokesman, said Japan had lodged a “strong protest,” accusing China of “unilaterally escalating” tensions.
China’s claims to sovereignty over the parts of the sea – and its estimated 11 billion barrels of untapped oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas – have antagonized competing claims from Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
The incident takes to 13 the number of intrusions this year by Chinese coastguard ships in the contested waters, Japan’s coast guard said. Coast guard ships from the two nations routinely patrol the area.
Beijing reiterates claims
The Chinese embassy responded to the protest by reiterating China’s stance on the islands. China routinely rejects Japanese criticism of such patrols.
In a statement on its website, China’s State Oceanic Administration confirmed that four coast guard vessels had been patrolling by the islands but made no mention of a drone.
Beijing has reclaimed over 3,000 acres in the Spratly Islands since early 2014 and has turned sandbars into military bases equipped with airfields and weapons bases.
According to a report by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), China has built a hangar and a radar on a man-made island in the Spratly Islands.
US-China also in dispute
Two Chinese fighter jets conducted what the US called an “unprofessional” intercept of an American radiation sensing surveillance plane over the East China Sea, the US Air Force said on Friday.
The incident occurred Wednesday when a pair of Chinese SU-30 jets approached a WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft conducting a routine mission in international airspace in accordance with international law, Pacific Air Forces spokeswoman Lt. Col. Lori Hodge said in a statement.
“We would rather discuss it privately with China,” Hodge said in an email to The Associated Press. “This will allow us to continue building confidence with our Chinese counterparts on expected maneuvering to avoid mishaps.”
China declared an air defense identification zone over a large section of the East China Sea in 2013, a move the US called illegitimate and has refused to recognize.
Manila and Beijing to talk
Meanwhile, Manila and Beijing are holding direct talks on the South China Sea for the first time later on Friday.
By agreeing to bilateral negotiations, the Philippines weakens the position of other countries involved in the dispute. It also potentially impedes efforts for a multilateral solution and exposes China’s ability to control the agenda in the South China Sea and US unwillingness to antagonize Beijing over the dispute.