Japan sends jets as China planes near disputed islands

One of the disputed islands, in an image released by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force on 15 September 2010 Image copyright AP
Image caption The territorial row concerns eight small islands or rocks in the East China Sea

Japan says it scrambled jets after two Chinese military aircraft flew close to disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Government spokesman Yukio Edano said the Chinese planes came within 55km (34 miles) of islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

He said that the planes did not enter Japanese airspace and withdrew when confronted.

But he voiced concern over China's growing military power and said Japan would monitor the situation.

Last year a row over the islands - which are controlled by Japan - severely strained ties between the two nations.

'Matter of concern'

"It is correct that yesterday Japanese jet planes were scrambled as two Chinese military aircraft were flying over the East China Sea," Mr Edano told journalists.

"On the other hand, the two planes were flying outside Japanese airspace and there were no breaches of international law or safety issues, so we are not in a position to lodge a complaint. However we are keeping an eye on them."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A diplomatic row began after Japan arrested a Chinese captain who rammed coastguard vessels

China's military modernisation and increased activity was "along with insufficient transparency, a matter of concern", he added.

It was the first time Chinese military planes had come so close to the islands, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported, citing a military body.

The incident comes just days after the two nations held their first "strategic dialogue" since June 2009 and agreed to work to repair ties damaged by the territorial dispute.

A major diplomatic row erupted between China and Japan in September last year after the arrest of a Chinese ship captain accused of ramming two Japanese patrol boats near the islands.

Japan later dropped charges against the captain.

The island chain is made up of eight uninhabited small islands and rocky outcrops.

They matter because they are close to strategically important shipping lanes, offer rich fishing grounds and are thought to contain oil deposits.

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