Six Chinese and Russian strategic bombers conducted a joint flight Tuesday over waters near Japan in what Japan's defense minister believes was a protest against a Quad summit held in Tokyo, prompting Japan's Air Self-Defense Force to scramble fighters in response.
China and Russia flew the bombers over the Sea of Japan, the East China Sea and the Pacific from the morning to the afternoon, according to the Japanese Defense Ministry, when Prime Minister Fumio Kishida hosted a meeting with the leaders of the United States, Australia and India.
The development marked the first time for Beijing and Moscow to conduct such an operation since November last year, the ministry said.
"The military drill carried out by the two countries' bombers near our nation during the meeting of the leaders of Japan, the United States, Australia and India, was intended to be an act of demonstration" against Japan, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters.
Japan "can never overlook" the act because China took a joint move with "Russia, an aggressor nation, at a time when the international community has been responding to Russia's aggression in Ukraine," Kishi said.
He said the act "will raise the level of provocation" and that Japan conveyed "grave concerns" to the two countries through diplomatic channels.
It was the fourth time that Japan has confirmed a "long-distance joint flight" by China and Russia, according to Kishi.
According to the ministry, the four Chinese warplanes were two Xian H-6 bombers and two others believed to be a similar type. There were no intrusions into Japanese airspace by any of the six bombers.
In the Quad meeting, the four leaders affirmed coordination in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific, a vision widely seen as countering China's increasing clout, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine could embolden Beijing to take further assertive actions over Taiwan and other potential flashpoints in the region.
The Chinese and Russian defense ministries announced a "joint patrol" by Chinese and Russian warplanes over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea.
The Russian Defense Ministry was quoted by the Tass news agency as saying that the aircraft of both countries "acted strictly in accordance with the provisions of international law, there were no violations of the airspace of foreign states."