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China denounces Japan protest over military jets' close brush

By Sui-Lee Wee

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Thursday that Japan's accusations of Chinese fighter jets flying "abnormally close" to Japanese military aircraft over the East China Sea were aimed at deceiving the international community.

Japan protested after Chinese warplanes flew "abnormally close" to Japanese military aircraft over the East China Sea on Wednesday.

China's Defense Ministry said Japan's repeated accusations "were aimed at furthering the deception of the international community, smearing the image of our military and manufacturing tensions in the region".

"This type of vile approach by Japan disregards the facts, confuses right and wrong and is entirely the villain bringing suit against his victims," the ministry said in a statement on its website.

On Wednesday, two Japanese F-15 planes followed a Chinese Tu-154 aircraft and came as close as 30 meters, "seriously affecting China's flight safety", the ministry said. It also released video footage of the incident.

Japan's Self-Defense Force sent a YS-11EB aircraft and an OP-3C surveillance plane to conduct reconnaissance in the air defense identification zone established by China, the ministry said.

"The operations of the Chinese pilots were professional, standard and restrained," the ministry said. "The actions undertaken by the Japanese pilots were dangerous and obviously provocative in their nature."

The comments came after Japan's Vice Foreign Minister, Akitaka Saiki, summoned China's ambassador to Japan, Cheng Yonghua, to protest Wednesday's incident.

The newest flare up in a long-running territorial dispute between Asia's largest economies follows a similar incident on May 24, when Japan said Chinese aircraft had come within a few dozen meters of its warplanes.

Saiki told Cheng on Thursday that "extremely dangerous activities that could lead to an unexpected accident in the sea or airspace in the vicinity of Japan should not repeated", according to Japan's foreign ministry.

China lays claim to Japanese-administered islets in the East China Sea, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. China declared its air defense zone covering most of the East China Sea last year despite protests by Japan and the United States.

Sino-Japanese ties have long been strained by allegations in China that Japan has not properly atoned for its wartime aggression and by the spat over the uninhabited islands.

(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg in TOKYO; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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