Japan and China trade insults over latest East China Sea encounter 

Chinese SU-27 fighter plane

Japan has denied Beijing’s claims that its planes came “dangerously close” to Chinese aircraft in an incident over the East China Sea this week, demanding China takes down the footage allegedly showing the incident.

China said on Thursday that two Japanese F-15 planes followed a Chinese Tu-154 aircraft the day before and came as close as 30 metres, “seriously affecting China‘s flight safety”. It then posted a video allegedly showing that incident on the defence ministry website.

“We believe there is no truth in China‘s assertions that Japanese fighter planes came within 30m of a Chinese plane and severely affected the flight’s safety,” the Japanese chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, told reporters.

“The aeroplanes [in the video] are different,” he told reporters, adding that Japan lodged a protest late on Thursday and demanded that Beijing withdraw the footage.

The latest exchange followed a protest lodged by Tokyo on Wednesday, when Japan said Chinese fighter jets flew “abnormally close” to Japanese military aircraft over the East China Sea, a charge Beijing rejected, accusing Tokyo of trying to “deceive international community”.

The row is the latest flareup in a long-running territorial dispute between Asia‘s largest economies. It follows a similar incident on 24 May, when Japan said Chinese aircraft had come within a few dozen metres of its warplanes.

China lays claim to Japanese-administered islets in the East China Sea, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. China declared an air defence zone covering most of the East China Sea last year despite protests by Japan and the US.

Suga reiterated Japan‘s request to establish a emergency communication mechanism between the two countries so that they can deal with crises.

Japan scrambled fighter jets against Chinese planes 415 times in the year ended in March, up 36% on the year, while in waters near the disputed islands, patrol ships from both countries have been playing cat-and-mouse, raising fears of an accidental clash.

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