Japan scrambles jets after China allegedly flies drone

USA officials called the incident, in which the surveillance plane was buzzed within 150 feet, "unprofessional", while China said that U.S. surveillance near the border might lead to "misunderstandings or misjudgments or cause unexpected incidents at sea or in the air".

Two Chinese jets intercepted an American radiation-sniffing surveillance plane that was flying over the East China Sea, drawing Washington's ire that accused Beijing of "unprofessional" behavior.

Japan air force scrambled fighter jets to shadow Beijing's movement in the disputed islets in the East China Sea on Thursday (18 May) after four Chinese coastguard vessels entered contested waters administered by Japan.

The US aircraft, a WC-135 Constant Phoenix, was conducting a "routine mission" in worldwide airspace on May 17 when it was intercepted by two Chinese Sukhoi SU-30 fighter aircraft, the Air Force said in a statement.

The drone later disappeared from sight, the coast guard said.

China declared an air defense identification zone over a large section of the East China Sea in 2013, a move the USA called illegitimate and has refused to recognize. Hodge declined to say whether Wednesday's incident was within the self-declared Chinese zone.

Mid-air interceptions occur routinely in global airspace, but the U.S. military will often call out foreign pilots if it judges the maneuvers to be risky or unprofessional. "This flight was no exception".

Unexpected and unsafe intercepts involving U.S. and Chinese military aircraft have occurred occasionally over the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety. This is a new form of activity by China.

Japan Air-Self Defense Force scrambled two F-15 fighter jets, one E-2C early warning aircraft and an AWACS surveillance plane in response to the deployment of a drone-like object in the island that China calls as Diaoyu and Japan as Senkaku.

The Chinese vessels were reportedly equipped with guns, Kyodo news agency cited Japan Coast Guard as saying.

In the U.S. case, the Americans are questioning the manoeuvres of the Chinese pilots and the speed at which they flew.

Japan and China have always been at loggerheads over the tiny, uninhabited islands, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Tokyo ordered its jets to the skies 1,168 times in the fiscal year until March, with 73 per cent of the missions against aircraft either known to be or believed to originate from China.

"This is escalating the situation and absolutely unacceptable", Defence Minister Tomomi Inada said in a separate news conference on Friday (19 May).

The move prompted an outcry from Japan and the United States, but a USA report a year ago suggested that it was not being fully enforced.

The Chinese embassy responded to the protest by reiterating China's stance on the islands, the official added. "It was used by the media for aerial photography; it was not a military action, as some media have hyped", she said, without providing further details about the media outlet in question. The US opposes China's territorial claims in the region and routinely asserts its right to sail or fly in areas it considers global sea or airspace.

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