File photo: AFP

Tokyo - Japan scrambled F-15 jets on Tuesday after a Chinese plane was spotted heading towards a group of islets disputed with China and Taiwan, the government said.

The Chinese government Y-12 propeller plane flew to within 140 kilometres north of the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, the Defence Ministry said in Tokyo.

The uninhabited islets, 300 kilometres from the Chinese coast, are also claimed by China and Taiwan, where they are known as Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai, respectively.

It was the first Japanese jet scramble since Beijing declared an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over a large stretch of the East China Sea, including the Senkakus, in late November. The move was criticized by Japan, South Korea and the United States.

Aircraft flying into another county's ADIZ are required to identify themselves and provide other flight data. Earlier on Tuesday, four Chinese surveillance ships also approached what Japan considers its territorial waters that reach 22 kilometres from the islets, the Japan Coast Guard said. -Sapa-dpa