Japan hits back at China again over plane encounters in E. China Sea

Japan again rejected on Monday China's claim that Japanese Self-Defense Forces aircraft interfered with its joint naval drills with Russia, saying it conducted regular warning and surveillance activities according to international law.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe instructed Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera to continue the SDF's warning and surveillance activities, two days after Chinese aircraft flew unusually close to Japanese airplanes above the East China Sea where China challenges Japan's administration of uninhabited islets.

Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki met with Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo to lodge a protest.

Although they agreed that both countries should avoid unwanted clashes, they traded barbs over the weekend incident. During the meeting, Cheng described Japan's argument as not based on facts, according to the ministry.

Saiki told reporters after the meeting that the Chinese envoy "made a series of remarks about China's position, but I countered (his argument) and said we cannot accept criticism against Japan."

Japan logged a protest with the Chinese ambassador to Japan for the first time since last November when Beijing unilaterally declared an air defense identification zone.

Japanese Ambassador to China Masato Kitera also visited the Chinese Foreign Ministry and lodged a protest over the incident, the ambassador said.

"It's an extremely dangerous act," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a regular press conference. "We urge the Chinese side to exercise restraint and act responsibly," the top government spokesman said.

One of the two Chinese SU-27 fighter jets flew roughly 50 meters from the SDF's OP-3C surveillance plane, and another came as close as 30 meters to a YS-11EB electronic intelligence aircraft in the East China Sea where the countries' air defense identification zones overlap.

China's Defense Ministry said Sunday the SDF planes "monitored and interfered with a joint military drill by the navies of China and Russia," adding that the Chinese fighters were scrambled and necessary identification and security measures were taken.

But Onodera denied Beijing's statement, telling an upper house audit committee meeting that "there were no warnings" from the Chinese side and that Japan conducted regular warning and surveillance operations "according to international law."

China's Foreign Ministry, however, rejected the characterization, insisting Japan's actions were "very dangerous and provocative."

"The Japanese side should deeply reflect on that. They should exercise restraint so as to avoid miscalculation of frictions or even conflict," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said during a daily press briefing Monday afternoon.

Onodera said he will make Tokyo's stance clear at the upcoming Asia Security Summit from Friday in Singapore. The summit, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, is a forum for defense and military chiefs to discuss security issues.

Tokyo and Beijing are at loggerheads over the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, known as Diaoyu in China. Since Japan's purchase in 2012 of the islets from a private Japanese owner, patrol ships and airplanes from both countries have continued to shadow each other.

China's declaration last November of an air defense identification zone over the Senkakus raised fears of a military clash.