Anyone hoping that if left on autopilot, pardon the pun, the frayed relations between Japan and China will fix themselves, is in for a disappointment. Because while the Japanese trade with China has imploded resulting in a collapse in Japanese exports, which in itself is crushing the local economy, the country may offset that economic decline with some "GDP growing" Keynesian voodoo if and when the provocations between the two countries escalate to the point of exchanged fire. Sure enough, Kyodo reports, that a Chinese government airplane entered Japanese airspace over the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea on Thursday in the first such airspace intrusion in Japan, prompting not only an immediate protest from the Japanese government, one which China refused to accept because it stated the islands are its own territory, but the scrambling of up to eight Japanese F-15 fighters. This is only the first time a Chinese airplane has entered the disputed airspace, the the third time in history: once before by a Soviet bomber in 1979 and a Taiwanese civilian aircraft in 1994. We now look forward to what China's response will be to this reaction which will certainly be seen as provocative in itself.
The Air Self-Defense Force scrambled F-15 fighter jets to the area after one of China's State Oceanic Administration airplanes was spotted at 11:06 a.m. about 15 kilometers south of Uotsuri Island, one of the Japanese-administered Senkakus claimed by China, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters.
It is the first-ever intrusion by China into Japanese airspace since Tokyo started tallying the number of such intrusions in 1958, according to the Defense Ministry.
Four Chinese maritime surveillance vessels entered Japanese waters around the disputed islands in Okinawa Prefecture in the morning, marking the third straight day Chinese government ships have entered the waters, the Japan Coast Guard said.
Tokyo immediately filed a protest with Beijing after the airspace intrusion, Fujimura said, adding that it is "extremely deplorable" that the incident occurred on top of the intrusion by the Chinese ships, which lasted about six hours.
"We are determined to deal firmly with action that violates our country's sovereignty in accordance with domestic laws and regulations," the top government spokesman added.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda instructed relevant government offices to take further caution in warning and surveillance activities, he said.
In a stump speech in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, Noda said, "I pledge to protect the nation and its people by practicing a thorough crisis management to protect our territorial land, sea, sovereignty and national interests."
The State Oceanic Administration of China, for its part, said its aircraft conducted a patrol mission with the four ships after reaching Chinese airspace over the disputed islands, which China calls Diaoyu.
Earlier in the morning, a coast guard patrol vessel that spotted the Chinese airplane radioed the aircraft, saying that it must leave Japanese airspace, but the plane replied that it was in Chinese airspace, according to the coast guard.
To respond to the airspace violation, the ASDF scrambled six F-15s from a base on the main Okinawa island and routed two more that had already been airborne. But the Chinese aircraft had already left the airspace when the fighter jets got there.
Radar operated by the Self-Defense Forces did not pick up the aircraft, according to the SDF.
Vice Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai summoned acting Chinese Ambassador to Japan Han Zhiqiang to the Foreign Ministry in the early afternoon to lodge a protest, calling for the prevention of any similar case in the future and for Chinese ships still inside the waters to swiftly leave the area.
Han asserted that the islands belong to China and declined to accept the protest, yet indicated he would convey the protest to his home government. The diplomat noted that China hopes to resolve the dispute in a peaceful manner through communication between the two countries, according to the ministry.
And with just days left until the nationalistic Shinzo Abe become the new old PM of Japan, and the Senkaku islands become a boiling issue of contention between the two populations, the geopolitical wildcard the far east is becoming just too big to ignore.