UK & World News

  • 2 January 2014, 8:45

China: Balloonist Crash-Lands Into The Sea

A Chinese chef has crash-landed into the sea while trying to fly a hot-air balloon to a tiny group of islands that are claimed by both China and Japan.

Xu Shuaijun, 35, was fished out of the water by Japanese coastguards after ditching his multi-coloured balloon 14 miles south of the disputedSenkaku islands in the East China Sea.

Mr Xutook off from Fujian province on Wednesday and planned to land on the uninhabited island ofUotsuri, but his adventure came to an end when he landed in the water - and into the middle of the territorial dispute.

His crash-landing comes at a time of heightened tension between Beijing and Tokyo over the territory.

Japan laid claim to the islands on 14 January 1895 by putting up an ownership marker and declaring them part of Japanese territory.

But China says they have belonged to them since ancient times andare known as the Diaoyou isles.

The islands are strategically important as they are close to international shipping lanes, offer abundant fishing territories and could lie near rich oil and gas reserves.

Both sides have repeatedly scrambled fighter jets against perceived threats, raising fears a miscalculation could lead to conflict, which could draw-in Japan's ally, the United States.

Tension between the countries increased in November when Beijing announced an air-defence zone which included the disputed isles.

It demanded that all aircraft flying through the zone identify themselves to Chinese authorities and keep communications open.

Japan has urged China to scrap the move, and its military and civilian aircraft have defied the requirements, flying through the zone without notifying China.

As Mr Xu was plucked from the sea, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe re-iterated his commitment to a stronger military and to revising the pacifist constitution.

"Japan will play an even more pro-active role than ever before for world peace and stability," he said in a New Year's message.

"We will fully defend the lives and assets of our nationals as well as our territory, territorial waters and territorial airspace in a resolute manner."

Mr Xu was not reported to be harmed and was handed over to a Chinese patrol vessel by the Japanese coastguard.

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