On Saturday, Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) scrambled fighters after six Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) aircraft flew through the international airspace of the Miyako Strait — a strategically important air and waterway south of the Japanese island of Okinawa.
According to the Japan Times, the “ministry’s Joint Staff Office said that the six Chinese planes consisted of two Su-30 fighters, two H-6 bombers, one Tu-154 surveillance plane and one Y-8 surveillance plane.”
The fighters reportedly transited the strait and returned to the East China Sea while the surveillance aircraft and the two H-6 bombers traveled south to the Bashi Channel, another strategically important waterway that sits between the Philippines’ island of Luzon and Taiwan.
Both the Bashi Channel and the Miyako Strait provide strategically critical access points for the Chinese PLAAF and People’s Liberation Army (Navy) to access the Western Pacific through what strategists call the “first island chain.”
The Chinese side expressed concern over Japan’s decision to scramble jets, with the Chinese Defense Ministry noting that its aircraft were training in an internationally recognized air lane and in line with an annual training plan.
According to the Chinese Defense Ministry, two Japanese F-15 fighters fired decoy flares at the Chinese aircraft.
“The Miyako Strait is a universally acknowledged international flight passage,” Chinese Defense Ministry Spokesperson Yang Yujun said. “The exercise had been planned within this year’s air force training routine. It does not target any specific country nor objective and it adheres to international law and practices.”
“It must be pointed out that the various interferential activities initiated by the Japanese military aircraft and ships in recent years can easily lead to misunderstanding and misjudgment, resulting in disputes and even conflicts in the sea and air space,” Yang added.
The Chinese ministry also urged Japan to “adopt effective measures to avoid such safety problems by proceeding to maintain regional stability and overall interests of China-Japan relations,” according to CCTV.
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense took note of the PLAAF flyby as well, noting that the Chinese aircraft did not enter the country’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ). The flyby comes after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen spoke with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in a historic phone call that drew China’s ire.
The PLAAF had flown a similar contingent of aircraft around Taiwan’s ADIZ in late-November, before the Trump-Tsai phone call.
Japan and China remain mired in disputes in the East China Sea, where the two countries dispute the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which Japan administers, but China claims.
The two sides have been working diplomatically to reduce tensions and increase communications between their militaries.