Japan's air force scrambled fighter jets to chase away foreign aircraft at record pace in the year to March 31, government figures showed on Thursday, as Chinese military activity in and around the East China Sea escalated.
Japan worries that China's probing of its air defenses is part of a push to extend its military influence in the East China Sea and western Pacific, where Japan controls an island chain stretching 1,400 km (870 miles) south towards Taiwan.
"Recently we have seen Chinese military aircraft operating further south and that is bringing them closer to the main Okinawa island and other parts of the island chain," Japan's top military commander, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, told a briefing in Tokyo.
Okinawa is home to the biggest concentration of U.S. Marine Corp forces outside the United States, hosting the bulk of the roughly 50,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan.
Japan's Air Self Defence Force reported its fighters scrambled 1,168 times over the 12 months, up from 873 last year. A record 851 jets headed off approaching Chinese planes, or 280 more instances than in the corresponding period last year. (end of excerpt)
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