BEIJING — Japan scrambled F-15 fighter jets Thursday in response to a Chinese surveillance plane that flew over contested islands in the East China Sea, ratcheting up a dispute that is becoming increasingly worrisome to the international community.
By the time the fighters from Okinawa reached the area, the plane belonging to the Chinese Oceanic Administration had flown away and the incident ended without a confrontation.
Nonetheless, it set nerves on edge around the region. Japan's Defense Ministry said it was the first time a Chinese plane intruded into airspace the Japanese have claimed since at least 1958, although Chinese vessels have frequently been darting into the waters near the islands, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Japan lodged an official protest and summoned the Chinese ambassador in Tokyo.
The sparring over the uninhabited islands in recent months has become increasingly alarming, with nationalistic fervor rising amid political transitions in both countries. The Chinese Communist Party's new general secretary, Xi Jinping, installed just a month ago, has been trying to prove himself a staunch defender of Chinese sovereignty.