Japanese fighter jets had to scramble a Chinese military plane that flew through international airspace on Wednesday near the Southern island of Okinawa, which houses the US military forces in Japan. Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said this is the first time that any Chinese aircraft flew in that airspace.
The Defense Ministry reported that a Chinese Y-8 airborne early warning plane flew between Okinawa and the smaller island of Miyako over the Pacific at noon on Wednesday and then later took the same route back to the East China Sea. While Chinese maritime vessels are frequent visitors in the waters near the disputed islands of Senkaku/Diaoyu, the presence of military aircraft now brings another dimension to the escalating tensions between Japan and China. Onodera told reporters that this latest move is an indication of China’s desire “toward further maritime expansion.” There was no comment from China’s government spokesman as of the moment.
The dispute over the island chain in the East China Sea has already been well-documented, but there is another issue regarding the Okinawa Islands, which is the southernmost prefecture of Japan. Some Chinese scholars have questioned Japan’s sovereignty over Okinawa because it is part of the Ryukyu chain that was paying monetary tribute to imperial China in the past. While they have not officially asserted a claim over any of the Ryukyu islands, this might also be the start of a campaign to start casting doubt over whether Okinawa really belongs to Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that Japan will be taking a firmer stance on territorial disputes, but also mentioned after the Upper House elections this week that the door is always open for dialogue.
[ via NY Times ]