Tag Archives: Chinese irredentism

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).

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China builds artificial island in South China Sea

South China Sea China is stepping up its irredentist claim to ownership of islands in the sub-soil  oil and gas rich South China Sea, by constructing an artificial island in the Spratlys.

Kristine Kwok and Minnie Chan report for Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, June 7, 2014:

China is looking to expand its biggest installation in the Spratly Islands into a fully formed artificial island, complete with airstrip and sea port, to better project its military strength in the South China Sea, a Chinese scholar and a Chinese navy expert have said.

Chinese artificial island in South China Sea The planned expansion on the disputed Fiery Cross Reef, if approved, would be a further indication of China’s change of tack in handling long-running sovereignty disputes from a defensive stance to an offensive one, analysts said.

They said it was seen as a step to the declaration of an air defence identification zone.

The Philippines last month protested against China’s reclamation activities at nearby Johnson South Reef, site of a 1988 skirmish between the Chinese and Vietnamese navies that was triggered by China’s occupation of Fiery Cross Reef.

With recent developments in the South China Sea having again focused the international spotlight on China, the analysts warned reclamation at the Fiery Cross atoll – which China, the Philippines and Vietnam all claim – would further strain Beijing’s relations with neighbours. South China Sea The proposal to build an artificial island there had been submitted to the central government, said Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.

The artificial island would be at least double the size of the US military base of Diego Garcia, a remote coral atoll occupying an area of 44 square kilometres in the middle of the Indian Ocean, Jin added.

The reef currently houses Chinese-built facilities including an observation post commissioned by Unesco’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. Li Jie, a naval expert from the Chinese Naval Research Institute, said the expanded island would include the airstrip and port. After the expansion the island would continue to house the observation post and to provide military supplies and assistance, he said.

A retired People’s Liberation Army senior colonel, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the construction of a landing strip on Fiery Cross Reef would allow China to better prepare for the establishment of an air defence identification zone over the South China Sea.

Beijing’s declaration of such a zone over the East China Sea in December prompted concerns among Southeast Asian countries that a similar arrangement could be imposed in the South China Sea.

Fiery Cross Reef, known as Yongshu in China, Kagitingan in the Philippines and Da Chu Thap in Vietnam, is close to sea lanes and could serve as a strategic naval staging post, said Alexander Neill, a Shangri-La Dialogue senior fellow.

Jin said consideration of whether and how to go ahead with the Fiery Cross Reef proposal would depend on progress on reclamation at Johnson South Reef. “It’s a very complicated oceanic engineering project, so we need to learn from the experience” on Johnson South, Jin said.

Late last month, renditions of a proposed artificial island were circulated among Chinese media. Citing a report posted on the website of the Shanghai-based China Shipbuilding NDRI Engineering, the Global Times said the unidentified artificial island could include a landing strip and a 5,000-tonne berth.

Zhang Jie, an expert on regional security with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China had long been researching island reclamation. Institutes and companies had drafted various designs over the past decade, said Zhang, adding that she had attended deliberation of one proposal years ago. “We had the ability to build artificial islands years ago, but we had refrained because we didn’t want to cause too much controversy,” she said.

However, this year had seen a “turning point” in which Beijing appeared to be making more offensive moves in the area, said Zhang, citing the recent deployment of an oil rig to disputed waters near Vietnam.

“Building an artificial island can no doubt provide supplies to ships and oil rigs nearby, but this would also cause very severe negative impacts in the region.” Such moves, she added, would further deepen mistrust among China’s neighbours and cause instability in the region.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defence in Beijing did not respond to requests for comment.

H/t CODA’s Sol Sanders

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US-China military chiefs openly clash; U.S. blamed for troubles in South & East China Seas

dempsey-fangPLA Gen. Fang Fenghui (l); U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey (r)

Richard Sisk reports for Military.com, May 15, 2014:

A top Chinese general Thursday strongly defended Beijing’s territorial claims over disputed islands in the South and East China Seas and charged that the U.S. rebalance of forces to the Pacific was encouraging unrest in the region.

Gen. Fang Fenghui, chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, said “the rebalancing strategy of the U.S. has stirred up some of the problems which make the South China Sea and the East China Sea not so calm as before.”

Fang warned that China would respond to any attempts by Vietnam, Japan or other neighbors to assert their own claims over the disputed islands and reefs.

“We do not create trouble but we are not afraid of trouble,” Fang said at a Pentagon news conference after meetings with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Dempsey appeared to be slightly irritated as he waited to comment while listening to a long-winded response by Fang on the current dispute with Vietnam over offshore oil drilling rights.

“Thank you for giving me the time to formulate my answer,” Dempsey told Fang.

When his turn finally came, Dempsey dismissed Fang’s objections to the so-called “Pacific pivot” and said the U.S. was committed to the policy.

“We’ll go because we can and should, and we’ll go because we have to,” Dempsey said of the rebalance. Dempsey also told Fang “We will respond to threats.”

However, Dempsey mostly stuck to his long-held position that the U.S. must build better military-to-military relations with China to avoid miscalculations that could lead to conflict in the region. 

Fang came to the Pentagon after meeting at Naval Base San Diego with Adm. Samuel Locklear, head of the Pacific Command. Dempsey met with Fang, China’s No. 3 military leader, last year in China and was returning the favor by inviting him to Washington.

At the opening of the news conference, Dempsey noted that China’s claims in the South China Sea could be seen as “provocative,” the same term used in recent days by the State Department.

Fang responded at length, blaming Vietnam for the current dispute over China’s movement of a $1 billion oil rig into territorial waters claimed by Hanoi. The action by China triggered widespread protests in Vietnam in which foreign factories were set ablaze and a Chinese national allegedly was killed. 

Fang charged that other nations he did not name had drilled for oil in the same region but complaints only surfaced when China sought to do the same.

“We believe the ones provoking those issues in the South China Sea are not China,” Fang said in an apparent rebuff to Dempsey. “When China does drill, we instantly become a threat.”

Vietnam officials have charged that Chinese ships have rammed Vietnamese Coast Guard vessels attempting to patrol near the oil rig, but Fang said the Vietnamese ships were attempting to interrupt the drilling.

“That is something that we cannot accept,” Fang said. “We will make sure that this well will be successfully drilled,” he said.

Fang also made China’s case in a separate dispute over disputed reefs and shoals with the Philippines, and accused Japan of reverting to World War II militarism in asserting its claims to disputed uninhabited islands called the Senkaku by Japan and the Diaoyu by China.

Fang said the Japanese claims were also encouraged by the U.S. rebalance of forces. “This is something that we can never agree (upon),” Fang said.

Despite their disagreements, both Dempsey and Fang noted that China next month for the first time will send ships to participate in the annual Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises off Hawaii.

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Territorial dispute intensifies: Japan will shoot down Chinese drones


Japan on Friday begins a week of live-fire military drills involving 34,000 troops, navy destroyers, jet fighters and amphibious assault vehicles.  The exercises include operations to defend remote islands from attack and come as Tokyo and Beijing are testing each other in a war of words over the disputed islets.

Japanese media report Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this month approved a plan to shoot down any foreign drones that refuse to leave Japan’s airspace.  Kyodo news agency reports Abe decided on the tough policy in response to China’s flying a drone in September near the islands.

Although not yet officially confirmed, Japan has for months been considering the measure to protect the waters surrounding the Japan-administered islands.

Rory Medcalf, the director of the international security program at Sydney’s Lowey Institute, said China’s introduction of drones into the dispute, and pledge to defend them, has made the situation more unpredictable: “So, the Chinese have kind of put Japan into an awkward position.  If it lets them pass, or if it lets them fly over disputed, contested airspace then China is further establishing its presence there. But, if Japan strikes back, then it’s really escalating tensions potentially towards conflict.”

Beijing has been aggressively developing its unmanned aerial vehicles and last year unveiled armed attack drones that appeared to be modeled on U.S. versions.

China’s Foreign Ministry played down its military’s talk of war by implying Japan was hyping the situation in order to build up its defenses.

Japan’s neighbors, who suffered from its World War II aggression, are wary of plans by Tokyo to increase the military operations allowed under its pacifist constitution.

But China is the one asserting its power in the region and testing Japan’s defense of the islands. Beijing sends weekly, and sometimes daily, patrols of ships and jet fighters near the islands, forcing Japan to respond by scrambling its own jets.

Abe this week said Japan would not tolerate any use of force by China to change the status quo.  Beijing responded by calling Japanese politicians “arrogant” and “self-deceiving” over the dispute.

“The real problem isn’t really so much the war of words, it is that the jet scrambling and fleets navigating in the disputed area, there could be a miscalculation with serious consequences,” said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Japan’s Temple University.

China’s official Xinhua news agency this month revealed Chinese nuclear submarines are being sent on regular sea patrols. Chinese destroyers earlier this year for the first time sailed the strait between Russia and Japan, raising eyebrows in Tokyo.

Japan’s exercises begin as China finishes up its own military exercises. China’s navy earlier this month began weeks of drills in the West Pacific with, for the first time, all three of its navy fleets.  Xinhua reports the exercises are aimed at improving combat abilities on the high seas.

Medcalf said the coinciding exercises could also help the two sides release some steam and prevent more threatening posturing.  But he said Japan-China hostility is not likely to cool down any time soon.

Tension is becoming the new normal in relations between China and Japan.  And, the best we can probably hope for is that they find informal ways of managing this, informal ways of their navies and their maritime forces really signaling to one another or keeping out of each others way,” Medcalf said. “It’s possible that over the next, I guess, ten to twenty years they will work this out and perhaps reach some new political understandings.  The danger zone will be, I think, in the next few years before they reach these new levels of understanding.”

Medcalf said one positive step would be if the countries establish operational hotlines between their forces to prevent unintentional confrontations from turning into a bigger conflict.

H/t GlobalSecurity.org

New China-India border agreement does little to ease tensions

China-India border disputeChina and India agree border pact

By Victor Mallet and Jamil Anderlini
Financial Times
Oct. 23, 2013

India and China signed a new agreement to ease tensions along their disputed Himalayan border on Wednesday, even as Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, admitted that the two Asian powers would take time to resolve their differences.

Indian officials have accused China’s People’s Liberation Army of repeated incursions across the so-called Line of Actual Control in both the western and eastern Himalayas.

This year, about 30 PLA soldiers camped for three weeks 18km inside what had been regarded as Indian-controlled territory in Kashmir, prompting India to threaten to take “every possible step” to defend its interests.

In July, India decided to create a new army “mountain strike corps” of 50,000 troops to protect its border with China in the eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which is claimed by China.

“This is not an easy issue and will take time to resolve,” Mr Singh told Chinese media at the start of a state visit to China this week.

After meeting Li Keqiang, Chinese premier, in Beijing on Wednesday, Mr Singh said they had agreed that peace on the border must remain the foundation for growth of the India-China relationship as negotiations on the border dispute continued. “This will be our strategic benchmark,” he said.

Mr Li said the relationship between the two countries, which account for more than a third of the world’s population, and their emerging economies was “the most important bilateral friendship in the world”.

The agreement on “Border Defence Co-operation”, the fifth such deal since 1993, commits the two armies to “maximum self-restraint” if they come face to face in a disputed area and obliges them to “prevent exchange of fire or armed conflict”.

One clause, Article VI, appears to allow troops to cross into disputed areas at will. “The two sides agree,” it says, “that they shall not follow or tail patrols of the other side in areas where there is no common understanding of the line of actual control in the India-China border areas.”

Uday Bhaskar, an Indian defence analyst, said even the use of the word “border” to describe the 4,000km frontier between the two was awkward. “The fact of the matter is that there is no border – which is why we have the problem,” he said.

Chinese analysts agreed that the latest pact was little more than an interim solution aimed at avoiding an accidental war breaking out between the two sides.

So many of the current problems arise from the line of actual control and both sides have a different understanding which means even after the new agreement is implemented there will still be conflicts and contradictions,” said Huang Yinghong, assistant professor of Asian and Pacific studies at Sun Yat-sen University. “When the political situation changes it is likely we will see the issue being used again to stir up trouble.”

The two countries have pledged to increase two-way trade to $100bn a year by 2015 but last year trade between the neighbours actually fell 10 per cent to $66.6bn.

Indian exports to China, its biggest trading partner in 2011, fell 20 per cent last year, while Chinese exports to India, China’s seventh-largest export destination, fell about 5 per cent.

The latest cross-border agreement was “better than nothing,” but not enough to put overall relations on a firm footing according to Wang Dehua, director of the Center for India Studies at Tongji University. “They need to solve this because it has not only already affected general diplomatic relations and mutual trust but also economic development. Chinese businessmen want to go to India but they are not confident to do so [because of strained relations].”

China humiliated India in a border war in 1962, and since then China has reinforced its position as the stronger of the two both militarily and economically.

H/t CODA’s Sol Sanders

Russia’s mounting internal crisis: declining population, radical Muslims, and China

Russian FederationThe Russian Federation (click map to enlarge)

Russian Federation being pulled apart

By Ilan Berman
New York Post
October 6, 2013

Don’t let Vladimir Putin fool you. Russia’s president may be cutting an imposing figure on the world stage these days, but his country faces a daunting future.

Today, the Russian Federation is fast approaching a massive social and political upheaval that promises to be as transformative as the USSR’s demise was some two decades ago. This coming crack-up is driven by the convergence of three trends: a declining population (though 175% the size of the United States, Russia has half the population), a rising — and radicalizing — Muslim underclass, and sharpening strategic competition with neighboring China.

Here’s a look at the Russian Federation’s mounting internal crises.

Moscow Oblast
The decline of Russia’s Slavic population is being mirrored by the growth of its Muslim minority. Today, Russia’s Muslims number 21 million people — 16% of the overall national population of 142.9 million. But by the end of the decade, one in five Russians will be Muslim. And by the middle of the century, as much as half of the population could be. Moscow, Russia’s capital, is already home to an estimated 2.5 million Muslims — more than any other European city except for Istanbul, Turkey.

Leningrad Oblast
Russia’s population is dwindling. Every year, the Russian Federation loses nearly half-a-million people to death and emigration. At this rate, according to official Russian government projections, the country’s population could shrink to just 107 million by mid-century. Demographers have described this phenomenon as the “emptying of Russia.”

With a population of just under 5 million, St. Petersburg still ranks as Russia’s second city. But the metropolis once known as “Leningrad” is experiencing the same domestic trends — from low life expectancy to rampant drug use to high rates of abortion — that are devastating the rest of the country.

Republic of Chechnya 
The epicenter of Russia’s war against radical Islam is Chechnya, which attempted unsuccessfully to break away from the Russian Federation some two decades ago. In the years since, the resulting civil war has transformed from a self-determination struggle into an Islamist jihad. And, even though the Russian government says publicly that it has persevered, the objective data suggests otherwise. Over the past several years, Islamic militants in the region have staged a savage comeback, carrying out numerous atrocities (including a brazen 2010 suicide raid on the Chechen parliament and the summer 2012 assassination of the spiritual leader of the Sufi community in neighboring Dagestan).

Republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia 
Over time, Chechnya’s Islamist unrest has spread to engulf adjoining republics, chief among them Dagestan and Ingushetia. There, growing dissatisfaction with the Russian government has led to widespread radicalization. A 2011 poll found that 30% of percent of Dagestani youth, including members of Dagestan’s universities and police schools, would choose to live under a Muslim-run religious regime. More than a third of those polled also indicated they would not turn in a friend or family member responsible for terrorism to authorities. Human rights groups and NGOs active in the North Caucasus similarly have documented an upsurge in support for Islamic extremism and radical religious ideas.

Krasnodar Krai
The Black Sea resort town of Sochi, located in the territory of Krasnodar Krai, is the site for the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics. Despite reassurances from Moscow, experts believe that instability from the nearby majority Muslim republics could pose a real threat to the security of the Games and its participants.

Republic of Tatarstan 
In Russia’s heartland, the traditional, assimilationist form of Islam that has coexisted peacefully for centuries with the Russian state is increasingly under siege from an insurgent and extreme Islamic fundamentalism. Last summer, Tatarstan’s two top Muslim religious authorities were targeted for assassination in a public challenge to the established, moderate religious status quo in the region.

Republic of Bashkortostan 
Bashkortostan — whose capital city, Ufa, serves as the spiritual seat of Muslims in eastern Russia — has likewise witnessed a marked growth in grassroots Islamist militancy and banditry. This violence has become so acute that in December 2012, the Kremlin took the unprecedented step of dispatching internal security forces to quell the instability — the first time it had done so since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Regions of Siberia
Together, Siberia and the Far East make up a vast expanse of more than 4 million square miles. But the population of both regions is dwindling rapidly. According to Russia’s 2010 national census, the number of citizens in Siberia and the Far East numbers just 25.4 million — or some six inhabitants per square mile. Ordinary Russians — once constrained by Soviet authorities in where they could live — are taking advantage of their newfound, post-Soviet freedom of mobility to move westward in search of economic opportunity and more hospitable climates.

Regions of the Far East
The resource-rich Far East has been likened to an “energy superpower” — an area with vast, largely untapped hydrocarbon wealth. But the Russian state is receding there. Since the Soviet collapse, an estimated 2 million Russians have departed the region, most for economic or social reasons, taking much of the area’s labor force with them. They are being replaced by Chinese migrants, both legal and illegal, and by massive, sustained investment from Beijing. The result, experts say, is that China is a rising political and economic power in Russia’s east.

China’s interest is more than simply economic, however. Russia and China have tussled over the territory of the present-day Far East for centuries and only officially settled their common border comparatively recently (in 2001). But that arrangement isn’t permanent; it expires in 2021, and these days Chinese nationalists are thinking more and more about reclaiming what they view as historic lost lands (which include present-day Primorsky Krai and the Jewish Autonomous Region, and parts of what is today the Amur Oblast and Khabarovsk Krai).

Ilan Berman is vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC, and the author of “Implosion: The End of Russia and What It Means for America” (Regnery Publishing), out now.

H/t CODA’s Sol Sanders