Japan scrambles jets to intercept Chinese military planes


A Taiwan Coast Guard boat (R-with red flag) is blocked by a Japan Coast Guard vessel (L) in the waters near the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands on Sept. 25, 2012.


Sam Yeh

Japanese fighter jets scrambled to intercept Chinese military plans near disputed islands in the East China Sea on Thursday, the AFP reported, although the Japanese defense ministry did not confirm the report. 

Japan picked up the Chinese plans on radar near the islands, known as Senkaku to Japanese, and Diaoyu in China. 

It's not the first time that has happened. As AFP points out

"F-15s were sent airborne to head off Chinese state-owned -- but not military -- planes four times in December, including an occasion when Japanese airspace was breached."

It's the latest flare-up in a long, slow escalation between China, Japan and other countries in the region over territorial disputes, many of which center on the islands that are reportedly in an area rich in natural recourses. 

The situation is compounded by both Chinese and Japanese nationalist parties whipping up their respective populations, causing some of their citizens to stage violent anti-Japanese or anti-Chinese protests. 

On Wednesday, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered increased surveillance on the disputed islands.

Japan is still considering allowing its jets to fire warning shots at Chinese planes that enter airspace over the islands. The lack of certainty suggests the gesture may be at least partly posturing.

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The new leaders of China and Japan are under domestic pressure not to show any sign of backing down, which means tensions in the East China Sea have continued to escalate.

Ben Carlson contributed reporting from Hong Kong.