China builds military base on offshore island to reclaim contested Senkakus

At the end of the Ryukyu archipelago in the East China Sea is a cluster of small islands called Senkaku by the Japanese and Diaoyutai by the Chinese, the ownership of which is contested by Beijing and Tokyo. The waters surrounding the islets are believed to contain sub-soil oil and natural gas deposits.

On November 24, 2013, China made a bold move toward its claim by declaring an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that includes the air space over the contested islands.

At first, the United States appeared to challenge China’s ADIZ by flying B-52 bombers over the area. Two days later, China demonstrated its resolve by sending warplanes into the ADIZ. The Obama administration then backed off, told U.S. commercial airlines to abide by China’s rules in the ADIZ, then seemed to signal that the U.S. would accept China’s ADIZ in the East China Sea although the U.S. official position is that it does not recognize the Chinese air defense zone as it covers large areas of international airspace and waters.

Now China has made another move to reclaim the islands.

China vs. Japan ADIZs

Bill Gertz reports for The Washington Free Beacon, Jan. 27, 2015, that recent satellite photos of an island off the coast of China confirm Beijing’s buildup of military forces within attack range of the Senkaku islands.

In October 2014, construction of a helicopter base on Nanji Island was observed by a commercial spy satellite. The island is off the coast of China’s Zhejiang province—some 186 miles northwest of the Senkakus. The imagery, obtained from the Airbus Defense and Space-owned Pleaides satellite, reveals China is constructing an airfield with 10 landing pads for helicopters on Nanji Island.

Click images below to enlarge

Nanji1Nanji2Military analysts say the new military base on Nanji Island appears to be preparation by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army for an attack or seizure of the Senkakus. Rick Fisher, a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said:

“China’s new heli-base on Nanji Island demonstrates that the PLA is preparing for an offensive military operation against the Senkaku/Daiyoutai Islands. If you want to rate the level of tension, this is the PLA reaching for its holster. When forces start deploying to Nanji Island, that means the hammer is cocked.

The military buildup on Nanji was first disclosed by Japan’s Kyodo News Service last month. Kyodo, quoting Chinese sources, said a landing strip was being built. However, the satellite photos, reported last week by IHS trade publication Jane’s Defence Weekly, did not indicate construction of an airstrip, only helicopter landing pads. The helicopter base construction is new because photos taken earlier than October 2013 do not show any visible construction. In addition to the helicopter pads, wind turbines on a ridge on the southeast part of Nanji also are visible additions to the island. Radar and communications equipment also is visible. The helicopter pads are an indication that China plans to use the base for transporting troops and forces by helicopter and not for longer-range air transports or fighter jets.

China has been engaged in a tense confrontation with Japan over the Senkakus since 2012, when Tokyo, in a bid to clarify the status of the uninhabited islands, purchased three of the islands from private owners in a bid to prevent Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara from buying them. Since then, Chinese ships and warplanes, as well as unmanned surveillance drones, have been flying close to the islands, prompting numerous Japanese maritime and aerial intercepts.

Yang Yujun

Yang Yujun

China’s Defense Ministry did not dispute the military buildup on Nanji.

On Dec. 25, 2014, at the same time as he called Japanese news reports of the construction on Nanji “irresponsible,” Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman PLA Sr. Col. Yang Yujun told reporters in Beijing that “There is no doubt that China has the right to conduct activities and construction on its own territory. Some media in Japan make irresponsible speculations on China’s legitimate activities and construction and play up tensions in the region. It is pure media hype.”

Questions were raised during the discussion with Yang as to whether the buildup is part of China’s declaration of an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea that covers the Senkakus.

Retired PLA Maj. Gen. Xu Guangyu, a senior adviser at China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, a Beijing-based research group, told Singapore’s Today newspaper on Dec. 23, that the Nanji military construction was “normal” and that “China has military bases in several strategically important coastal islands and the Nanji is one of them. The Japanese media is only singling out the Nanji and making a big fuss, [and] this can be misleading.”

Jane’s said the Nanji construction appears to be part of a “quiet military buildup around the Senkaku/Daioyu islands by both sides. For its part, Japan is putting aside funds to buy land for a coastal surveillance radar unit on Yonaguni island, which is the westernmost of its islands and only 150 kilometers from the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, while it is also training up and kitting out a small marine corps-style force that will be based in Nagasaki.”

The lack of an airfield is a “gap” in Chinese plans for military operations against the Senkakus, Jane’s said. The closest PLA air base to the Senkakus currently is located at Luqiao, some 236 miles from the Senkakus, where J-10 fighters are based.

Fisher, however, said Nanji could be used by the PLA to base its large Zubr air-cushioned hovercraft that are capable of moving troops and tanks in a takeover of the Senkakus or an assault against Taiwan.

A Japanese Embassy spokesman declined to comment on the Chinese military construction: “We are in the process of gathering information on this, and thus not able to comment.” A Pentagon spokesman did not respond to an email request for comment.

Note: The United States has a mutual defense treaty with Japan, and a Congressional act with the Republic of China on Taiwan called the Taiwan Relations Act (1979), wherein the U.S. states it is committed to the maintenance of peace and security in the Western Pacific (which includes the Taiwan Strait).

See also:

~StMA

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4 responses to “China builds military base on offshore island to reclaim contested Senkakus

  1. Once again, we see the PRC moving towards establishing “facts on the ground.” If the US and Japan do not establish a military presence on at least one of the Senkaku islands, the PRC will move in and establish one. Probably a company or battalion size force. Obama will, of course, wet his pants and bluster but will do nothing, Then the PRC can build a REAL airbase there and dominate the region on the cheap.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The PRC, of course, has every right to build military facilities on its own territory. We have the same right (The same is true of Japan. Together, we could fashion a veritable necklace of facilities within mission reach that would secure the Senkakus). The difference is that Beijing’s military developments indicate a nation with a positive security policy (a growing military with specific mission responsibilities). Beijing has clear goals–we do not (i.e., our signal failures in the Middle East and in Ukraine). There is no evidence that this will change in the foreseeable future.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As one who plays the game of ‘go’ I recalled the name Senkaku –which is the name of a formation that leads to moves– had important references in Nippon history….

    “1835: Honinbo Jowa (Meijin) x Akaboshi Intetsu
    W+R; blood-vomiting game. Jowa, who as a Meijin couldn’t afford to lose, had to face new secret trick joseki (move 33), that gave Akaboshi advantage. But Jowa then played three brilliant tesuji (68, 70,
    80) and turned the game around. After a week of playing Intetsu kolapsed, started to vomit blood, and died in a few days.”
    https://mysanrensei.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/famous-go-games-1582-1959-overview/

    The game has had a tremendous influence in Japanese history, and is best shown when the fledgling Japanese navy bested the Russian Navy in 1907, an event that made the world start paying attention to Japan as a modern nation [i.e., ‘one of us’], and the legend/story of the Admiral’s appearance afterwards to the Emperor.
    [see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_Russian_Navy%5D

    History does sometimes repeat itself, especially if its players are the same, albeit in a different context.

    Like

  4. Thank you StMA for this excellent post. As Dr.Gregor has pointed out, we have an opportunity to secure this situation, but this is not going to happen given the brilliant foreign policy leadership that is in charge in our circus.

    Liked by 1 person

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