Ships belonging to the various players in Asia’s game of thrones have been menacing, tailing, and ramming one another in the seas around China (video here). Now, things have taken an even more dangerous turn: China and Japan have started to do the same with aircraft. Japan Times summarizes the incident from the Japanese side:
According to the Defense Ministry, one of the two Chinese jets came as close as 30 meters to a YS-11EB electronic intelligence aircraft from the Air Self-Defense Force, and within 45 meters of an OP-3C surveillance plane from the Maritime Self-Defense Force between 11 a.m. and noon Wednesday.Japanese officials said the SDF turboprops were engaging in a “normal vigilance and surveillance” mission that it was legal under international law.
Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki summoned the Chinese Ambassador Cheng Yonghua to the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo to lodge a formal protest, but his request for an apology was rebuffed. China’s Xinhua:
Cheng made the remarks when he met with Japanese vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki the day and refuted protest lodged by the Japanese side over what it called “plane encounter” incident.Cheng said that Japan’s YS11EB and OP3C aircraft tailed after China’s Tu-154 plane as close as 30 meters over the East China Sea at around 10 a.m. Wednesday and the Japanese fighters’ action seriously threatened the safety of China’s plane.In an effort to prevent further contingency, two Chinese fighters, following orders, flew to the incident airspace and conducted surveillance on the two Japanese planes with a distance of 150 and 200 meters respectively, Cheng said.
As Bill Bishop noted, there is no hotline set up between Chinese and Japanese leaders to keep incidents like these from spiraling out into an uncontrolled conflict. This is a very dangerous situation, and it couldn’t be happening at a more inopportune time, with the Middle East at full boil and Ukraine seemingly hanging by a thread.