China rebukes Japan after both sides' planes fly near islands

BEIJING Fri Jan 11, 2013 11:20am GMT

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China criticised Japan on Friday for "creating tension", a day after China's air force scrambled two fighters in response to a flight by Japanese jets, the latest incident between the countries following months of tension over disputed islands.

China scrambled two J-10 fighters on Thursday over the East China Sea after two Japanese F-15s followed a Chinese military plane "on routine patrol", the Chinese Defence Ministry said in a statement on its website.

The Chinese Y-8 was flying over East China Sea oil and gas fields east of Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, when it was followed at close range by the Japanese planes, the ministry said. A third Japanese surveillance plane was flying nearby, it said.

The Defence Ministry gave no other details of the incident while the Foreign Ministry described the action by the Japanese aircraft as an "exaggeration".

"It is understood that the flight by Chinese military planes in airspace related to the East China Sea is routine", Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing.

"We firmly oppose Japan's groundless exaggeration and creating tension for the current state of affairs".

In Tokyo, Japan's Defence Ministry declined to comment.

It was believed to be the first time Chinese jets had scrambled against Japanese military planes since tension flared last year over a series of small islands in the East China Sea claimed by both countries.

Japan's military has sent up jet fighters several times in recent weeks to intercept Chinese planes approaching airspace over the islands, called the Diaoyu by China and the Senkaku by Japan.

The Japanese government purchased three of the islands from a private owner last September, sparking widespread and violent anti-Japanese protests across China.

Japan is likely to increase defence spending for the first time in 11 years, as newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledges a sterner response to the territorial dispute, Japanese media reported on Saturday.

(Reporting by Terril Yue Jones and Tokyo newsroom; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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