Chinese and Russian fighter jets carried out joint flights near Japan on Tuesday, 24 May, as the Quad Leaders' summit, the second in-person meeting of leaders from the United States, India, Australia, and Japan, takes place in Tokyo, the Japanese defence minister said. Russia later confirmed the joint exercise.
Japan’s Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said that the government had expressed "grave concerns" to Russia and China over the flights, news agency AFP reported.
Though the planes did not breach territorial airspace, it is the fourth time since November that long-distance joint flights by Russia and China have been spotted near Japan, the defence ministry said.
"Two Chinese bombers joined two Russian bombers in the Sea of Japan and made a joint flight to the East China Sea," Kishi was quoted as saying. "After that, a total of four aircraft, two presumed (new) Chinese bombers – which replaced the two Chinese bombers – and two Russian bombers, conducted a joint flight from the East China Sea to the Pacific Ocean."
Calling the moves especially "provocative" given the summit, Kishi added that a Russian intelligence-gathering aircraft also flew off northern Hokkaido to the Noto Peninsula in central Japan on Tuesday.
Russia's Defence Ministry Confirms Joint Exercise
Confirming the exercise, Russia put out a statement saying that it had conducted a joint patrol with China over the Asia Pacific region.
The exercise, which lasted for 13 hours, involved Russia's Tu-95 strategic bombers and China's Xian H-6 planes, Reuters reported Russia's defence ministry as saying. The planes flew over the Japanese and East China seas.
Moscow also said that the air force jets of Japan and South Korea shadowed the Russian and Chinese aircraft for a part of the joint exercise.
'Making Indo-Pacific More Resilient': Quad Leaders Issue Joint Statement
Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and United States President Joe Biden issued a joint statement on the goals and commitments of Quad nations, in a bid to make the region more resilient for the 21st century.
"We strongly support the principles of freedom, rule of law, democratic values, sovereignty and territorial integrity, peaceful settlement of disputes without resorting to threat or use of force, any unilateral attempt to change the status quo, and freedom of navigation and overflight, all of which are essential to the peace, stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region and to the world," the leaders underlined in the introduction of the statement.
"As the international community responds to Russia's aggression against Ukraine, the fact that China took such action in collaboration with Russia, which is the aggressor, is a cause for concern. It cannot be overlooked," Kishi pointed out.
Japan has scrambled military jets 1,004 times in the past year to March, the second highest on record, according to the defence ministry, to counter approaching Chinese or Russian aircrafts.
(With inputs from AFP and Reuters.)