The Sino-Japan row over disputed islands in the East China Sea took a new turn on Thursday as Beijing said its surveillance plane was 'disturbed' by Japanese fighter jets and warned Tokyo of consequences.
A Chinese marine surveillance plane, which was sent to the disputed islands for the first time on December 13, was 'disturbed by Japanese military aircraft while patrolling airspace near the Diaoyu Islands', a Chinese government spokesman said.
China calls uninhabited islands in the East China Sea Diaoyu while Japan refers to them as Senkakus. "Japan's action is meant to escalate the situation, and it should bear the consequences of this action," Shi Qingfeng, spokesman for China's State Oceanic Administration, was quoted as saying by the state-run Xinhua news agency.
Earlier reports had said that Japanese F-15 fighter jets had scrambled over the area by the time the Chinese plane had left. This is the first time that China has commented on what happened when its surveillance plane joined its marine surveillance ships to patrol the islands.
There were no reports of the Chinese plane making a second surveillance attempt, even though China had again sent a fleet of surveillance ships soon after the right-wing Japanese leader Shinzo Abe swept recent elections in Japan.
Shi said the Chinese government plane was conducting a routine patrol in China's undisputed airspace about 150 km away from the Diaoyu Islands. Chinese Defence spokesman Yang Yujun said the People's Liberation Army is 'closely monitoring' the situation and is 'highly vigilant' concerning Japanese Air Self-Defence Force's activity in the airspace over the Diaoyu Islands.
"We will decisively fulfill our tasks and missions while coordinating with relevant departments such as maritime supervision organs, so as to safeguard China's maritime and enforcement activities and protect the country's territorial integrity and maritime rights," Yang said, while commenting on Japanese jets' 'recent interception' of the surveillance plane.
Yang said it is 'justifiable' for the Chinese military to provide security in waters under China's jurisdiction, and other countries are 'in no position' to make irresponsible remarks in this regard.
"China-Japan defence relations are an important and sensitive part of bilateral ties," Yang said and urged Tokyo to take concrete steps to properly handle relevant issues.
Despite the rhetoric, China and Japan geared up to repair their diplomatic ties. Abe, Japan's newly-elected Premier, is expected to send a special envoy to China to discuss initiatives to improve ties.The new Japanese Ambassador Masato Kitera has also taken charge two days ago, promising to work to cool down tensions.