BEIJING (Reuters) - China defended the actions of its air force on Tuesday after Japan said it scrambled fighter jets to prevent possible incursions by Chinese planes a record high number of times in the summer.

Japan jets scrambled 117 times from July to September, up from 103 in the same period of last year, although it was lower than the all-time high of 164 times recorded in the final quarter of 2014.

"The actions of China's aircraft in the airspace over the relevant sea are justified and legal," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.

"We call on Japan to cease all interfering actions targeting China and make constructive efforts to safeguard China-Japan relations and regional peace and stability."

Japan has long been mired in a territorial dispute with China over a group of tiny, uninhabited East China Sea islands, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

Patrol ships and fighter jets from Asia's two biggest economies have been shadowing each other on and off near the islets, raising fears that a confrontation could result in a clash.

Sino-Japanese ties, also plagued by the two countries' wartime past, concerns over Tokyo's bolder security stance and Beijing's increasing military assertiveness, have thawed a little in the last year.