The planes - eight bombers, two intelligence gathering planes and one early-warning aircraft - flew near Miyako and Okinawa yesterday without violating Japan's airspace, the Japanese Defence Ministry said in a statement.

Some of them flew between the two islands while others made flights close to neighbouring islands, the ministry said.

The move comes with tensions running high in the South China Sea after a US warship sailed close to at least one land formation claimed by China, which has rattled its neighbours with its increasingly assertive stance in territorial disputes.

China insists on sovereignty over virtually all the resource-endowed South China Sea, which is also claimed in part by a handful of other countries. Washington has repeatedly said it does not recognise the Chinese claims.

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