Japan will not lodge a complaint against China for sending two warplanes into airspace near disputed islands in the East China Sea but is concerned by the incident and Chinese military activity in the area, a senior official said Thursday.
Tokyo's top spokesman said the Chinese planes did not actually enter Japanese airspace before Japanese F-15 fighter jets were scrambled to intercept them. He said they were not a security threat but Tokyo will watch closely for further activity in the area.
Japan's Defense Ministry says it scrambled the fighters Wednesday as the Chinese planes _ a Y-8 surveillance aircraft and a Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft _ approached the disputed islands.
"The planes were flying outside of Japanese airspace and so we do not intend to lodge a formal protest," said chief Cabinet spokesman Yukio Edano. "But we intend to continue to closely monitor Chinese military activity."
According to Japanese media reports, the Chinese naval aircraft came within 30 miles (50 kilometers) of the disputed islands, called the Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in China. The islands are uninhabited and lie between Taiwan, China and southern Japan.
The islands have long been a flashpoint in relations between Tokyo and Beijing.
Japan's arrest of the Chinese captain in a maritime collision near them last September inflamed nationalist emotions in both countries, with China suspending ministerial-level contacts and thousands taking to the streets for angry anti-Japanese protests.
Japan eventually let the captain go home without charges.
Japanese fighters were scrambled in response to suspected Chinese air incursions 38 times in the year up until the end of last March, the most recent period for which statistics have been compiled. Fighters were scrambled 299 times in total in that period, primarily because of Russian military activity.
It was not clear if the number of scrambles has gone up since then.
Still, Tokyo has expressed increasing concern over China's rapidly improving military capabilities and its more assertive stance toward disputed islands such as the ones in the East China Sea.
As a counterbalance, Tokyo is planning to increase the number of submarines in its fleet and bolster its troops and radar capabilities on the southern Okinawan islands.