China says its plane harassed by Japanese military aircraft

Beijing, Dec 27 (IANS) A Chinese government spokesman Thursday said a maritime surveillance plane was harassed by Japanese military aircraft while patrolling the airspace near the disputed Diaoyu islands.

Shi Qingfeng, spokesman for the State Oceanic Administration, said Japan's action was meant to escalate the situation and it should bear the consequences, Xinhua reported.

Shi said the Chinese plane was conducting a routine patrol in the airspace over the East China Sea about 150 km from the Diaoyu islands.

He said the flight route used by the Chinese plane has been used by Chinese surveillance aircraft since 2007.

"The Japanese side's disturbance was intended to cause confusion and distort the truth," he said.

The disputed islands in the East China Sea, claimed by China, Japan and Taiwan, lie on a vital shipping route and are surrounded by large hydrocarbon deposits beneath them.

Japan says it has controlled the islands since 1895 until its surrender at the end of World War II.

The islands were controlled by the US from 1945 to 1972 and subsequently returned to Japan's control. China claims the islands' discovery and control since the 14th century.

Tokyo says its rivals only became vocal over the issue in the 1970s upon the discovery of valuable minerals.

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