Tokyo, April 27 (CNA) China dispatched over 40 warplanes to join eight surveillance vessels in trying to prevent a flotilla of Japanese nationalists from landing on the disputed Diaoyutai Islands on April 23, according to a Japanese media report.
Previous foreign reports had only mentioned that the simultaneous presence of eight Chinese maritime surveillance vessels in the region were the most since tensions over the uninhabited island chain escalated last September.
The Japanese business daily Sankei Shimbun reported Saturday that more than 40 Chinese jet fighters flew close to the Diaoyutais on April 23 when the Chinese government vessels were playing cat-and-mouse with a 10-ship Japanese flotilla in the 12-nautical-mile zone off the islet chain in the East China Sea.
The Japanese government saw China's deployment of such a large fleet of jet fighters to the region as an attempt at intimidation, the Sankei Shimbun said.
Citing unidentified senior Japanese officials, the daily said most of the Chinese warplanes were new Su-27 and Su-30 jet fighters.
The Chinese fighters took turns flying close to the Diaoyutai Islands, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and Diaoyu Islands in China, while the Chinese surveillance vessels continued their standoff with the Japanese nationalist flotilla and coast guard patrol ships, the paper said.
Japanese officials were quoted as saying that the Chinese warplanes were apparently monitoring the Japan Coast Guard's actions and conveying updated information about the deployment of Japan's warships and P3C anti-submarine aircraft in the region to China's surveillance ships.
The Sankei Shimbun said the eight Chinese vessels entered the Diaoyutai waters on the morning of April 23 and did not leave what Japan claims as its territorial waters until 7:30 p.m. that day.
One of the Chinese ships even sailed in waters just one kilometer off the northwestern tip of the Diaoyutais, the paper said.
Located some 100 nautical miles northeast of Taiwan, the Diaoyutais have been under Japan's administrative control since 1972, but are also claimed by Taiwan and China.
The long simmering tensions over the islets came to a head last September when Japan nationalized three islets in the island cluster in an attempt to reinforce its sovereignty claim.
In the past, China had only sent J-10 jet fighters to the Diaoyutai region, but the deployment of fourth-generation Su-27s and Su-30s to the region for the first time in the April 23 operations upped the stakes, the Sankei Shimbun said.
According to the paper, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force has about 300 fourth-generation jet fighters such as F-15s and F-2s, while China has over 560 highly advanced fighters in service.
The paper quoted a senior Japanese official as saying that the Japan Air Self-Defense Force may be unable to cope with China's attempts at intimidation if the Chinese Air Force continues to use tactics similar to those seen on April 23.
As the Diaoyutais are located far closer to Taiwan than to China or Japan, some Taiwanese political analysts said the presence of Chinese government ships and warplanes in the region could also pose new challenges to Taiwan's security.
(By Yang Ming-chu and Sofia Wu)