TOKYO, April 13 (Reuters) - Japan's air force scrambled fighter jets to chase away foreign aircraft at record pace in the year to March 31, government figures showed on Thursday, as Chinese military activity in and around the East China Sea escalated.
Japanese fighters scrambled 1,168 times over the 12-month period compared with 873 times last year, according to a media release from the Japanese Air Self Defence Force. That was also well above the previous high of 944 incidents in 1984.
Of those, a record 851 jets were sent to head off Chinese planes closing in on Japanese airspace, 280 times more than in the same period last year.
Japan worries that Beijing's probing of its air defences is a sign of China's intent to extend its military influence in the East China Sea and western Pacific, where Japan controls a chain of islands stretching 1,400 km (870 miles) from the mainland south towards Taiwan.
Encounters with Russian aircraft, which are often bombers flying from the north that skirt around Japan's airspace, rose 4.5 percent to 301 scrambles. (Reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo and Tim Kelly; Editing by Paul Tait)