Tag Archives: Diaoyutai

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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Crisis Over Senkaku: China declares East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone

SenkakuAgence France-Presse reports that on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, China announced that it has set up an “East China Sea air defense identification zone” that includes the Japan-held Senkaku Islands, which Chinese call Diaoyutai and over which China also claims ownership.

The Chinese Defense Ministry said the zone was created to “guard against potential air threats,” and dispatched its air force jets, including fighter planes, to patrol the new zone.

The outline of “East China Sea air defense identification zone” is shown on the ministry website and a Chinese state media Twitter account — pic.twitter.com/4a2vC6PH8O. It covers a wide area of the East China Sea between South Korea and Taiwan, and includes the Senkaku or Diaoyu islets.

East China Sea Air Defense Identification ZoneI added the English translation

Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said Saturday that the establishment of the zone, which China said entered into force as of 10 a.m. Saturday, was aimed at “safeguarding state sovereignty, territorial land and air security, and maintaining flight order. It is a necessary measure in China’s exercise of self-defense rights. It has no particular target and will not affect the freedom of flight in relevant airspace. China will take timely measures to deal with air threats and unidentified flying objects from the sea, including identification, monitoring, control and disposition, and it hopes all relevant sides positively cooperate and jointly maintain flying safety.”

Along with the new zone, the Chinese ministry released a set of aircraft identification rules that it says must be followed by all aircraft entering the area, under penalty of intervention by China’s military.

Aircraft are now expected to provide their flight path, clearly mark their nationality and maintain two-way radio communication in order to “respond in a timely and accurate manner to identification inquiries” from Chinese authorities.

Shen Jinke, spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, reported late Saturday that it had conducted a sweep of the area using early warning aircraft and fighter jets. “The patrol is in line with international common practices, and the normal flight of international flights will not be affected,” Shen said.

Four Chinese Coast Guard boats briefly entered Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkakus on Friday, after multiple incursions at the end of October and the beginning of this month further aggravated tensions between Beijing and Tokyo.

Reaction from Tokyo

In Tokyo, Junichi Ihara, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, lodged a protest by phone with Han Zhiqiang, a minister at the Chinese Embassy, according to a statement issued by the ministry. Ihara told Han that Japan can “never accept the zone set up by China,” as it includes the Senkakus. He further said the new zone will “escalate” already fraught bilateral ties over the uninhabited but potentially resource-rich islet chain, branding China’s move “very dangerous.”

Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki plans to summon Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua as early as possible Monday to state Tokyo’s position on the matter.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera in late October said the repeated incursions are a threat to peace and fall in a “gray zone (between) peacetime and an emergency situation.”

A few days earlier, his Chinese counterpart had threatened Japan that any bid to shoot down China’s drones would constitute “an act of war.” That move came after a report said Japan had drafted plans to destroy foreign drones that encroach on its airspace if warnings to leave are ignored.

Sino-Japanese relations have remained icy for more than a year because of the Senkakus dispute, which was revived when Japan purchased three of the five main islets in September 2012, effectively nationalizing the entire chain. Since then, China has regularly sent coast guard vessels to the islets, which lie 400 km west of Okinawa and 200 km northeast of Taiwan.

Reaction from Washington

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Saturday the United States is “deeply concerned” over China’s move to establish an air defense zone over a string of disputed islands in the East China Sea. “We view this development as a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region,” Hagel said in a statement. “This unilateral action increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations.”

Hagel said the map will have no effect on how the United States conducts military operations in the area, and that concerns are being conveyed to China “through diplomatic and military channels.” Hagel also said the United States believes that the Senkaku islands are included as part of Japan in the U.S. Japan Mutual Defense Treaty.

In a separate statement, Secretary of State John Kerry urged China to exercise restraint with foreign aircraft that don’t identify themelves inside the air defense zone. “Escalatory action will only increase tensions in the region and create risks of an incident,” Kerry said. “Freedom of overflight and other internationally lawful uses of sea and airspace are essential to prosperity, stability, and security in the Pacific.”

Sources: The Japan Times; Politico

Now we know why Beijing has been making those bellicose saber-rattling threats against the United States. It’s China’s warning to the Obama administration to stay out of the Senkaku territorial dispute. See:

Update (Nov. 25):

Here’s a map showing how China’s newly-declared East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone overlaps with Japan’s (h/t Jim H.). English translations are mine:

Click map to enlarge

ADIZ overlap map

UPDATE (Nov. 26):

U.S. directly challenges China’s air defense zone with B-52 bombers.

Territorial dispute intensifies: Japan will shoot down Chinese drones

Senkaku

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

4 Chinese ships entered Japan territorial waters near Senkaku

SenkakuShips of the People’s Republic of China once again entered Japanese territorial waters off the disputed Senkaku or Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea.

Iran’s Press TV reports (via GlobalSecurity.org) that Japan’s Coast Guard says four Chinese ships have sailed into Japan-controlled waters of the Senkaku islands (known as Diaoyu by China) on Oct. 1. 2013 — the 64th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Tokyo has long been engaged in a dispute with Beijing over the sovereignty of the uninhabited islands.

The incident also came as US Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel are expected to meet their Japanese counterparts in Tokyo two days later on Oct. 3 to discuss operational arrangements for the alliance between the two sides.

Previous similar incidents include:

  • On September 27, China sent a fleet of four vessels for patrolling territorial waters surrounding the disputed chain of islands.
  • On September 14, four Chinese ships entered Japan’s territorial waters.
  • In late April 2013, eight Chinese vessels entered the disputed waters, which led Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to say that Tokyo would “expel by force” any Chinese individuals landing on the islands.

On September 11, 2012, Tokyo signed a deal to buy three of the islands from their private Japanese owner in line with plans to nationalize the archipelago.

The islands are located near a crucial shipping lane and give the owner exclusive oil, mineral and fishing rights in the surrounding waters.

Last month, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that his country is ready to talk to Japan over the maritime row if Tokyo declares the islands to be disputed.

See also:

US-China’s Osprey vs. Bison arms race in East China Sea

ZubrZubr class LCAC or the PLA Navy’s Bison

Osprey vs. Bison in the East China Sea

By Richard D. Fisher, Jr.

East AsiaPreviewSecurity

September 20, 2013

China, Japan and the U.S. are ramping up their ability to deploy to disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Stability in the region between Taiwan and Japan, and the security of Taiwan, hinges on an arms race that will soon be accompanying the heightened paramilitary engagements between Japanese, Chinese and, occasionally, Taiwanese Coast Guard ships over who will control the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea.

For now this contest for control is confined to shoving matches largely between Chinese and Japanese Coast Guard ships, which take several days to deploy. However, China is now developing the means to project decisive force to these islands in hours, not days. Should China gain the upper hand in this arms race there is a greater chance it will use force to occupy the islands and then set its sights on the strategically more attractive nearby Sakashima island group.

For now, though, the upper hand is held by the United States, which has just completed the initial deployment of 24 U.S. Marine Corps Bell-Boeing MV-22B Osprey conventional, or twin tilt rotor aircraft, to Futenma Base in Okinawa. This unique aircraft, by virtue of its twisting rotors and engines at the ends of its wing, can take off like a helicopter, and then cruise at about 280 miles per hour, carrying up to 24 troops or about six tons of cargo to a range sufficient to reach the disputed islands. In a full-out surge, the 24 MV-22Bs at Futenma could potentially put about 500 troops or about 140 tons of weapons and material on the Senkakus or the Sakashimas in about one hour.

On September 17, 2013, Kyodo reported that current commander of U.S. Marine forces on Okinawa, Lt. General John Wissler, told Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaimu about the Osprey, “That aircraft has the ability to reach the Senkakus, should we need to support any sort of Japan-U.S. security treaty.”

China is also accumulating rapid lift assets. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has taken delivery of the first Ukrainian-built Zubr (Bison) large hovercraft. The first example, delivered in May, is now undergoing final modifications in Shanghai. At least three more are expected initially, but China may build many more of an indigenous version. Developed by the former Soviet Union to give its Naval Infantry the ability to rapidly invade NATO countries along the Baltic Sea, the Zubr can lift about 500 troops or up to 150 tons of armor, weapons and material up to speeds of 66 miles per hour. With just four Zubr hovercraft, the PLAN could potentially put 2,000 troops or up to 600 tons of weapons and material on the Senkakus in about four to five hours, or it could reach the island of Miyako-jima in about six to seven hours with a much reduced payload.

If it actually came to a race between the Osprey and the Bison, getting there first would make all the difference, as without the advantage of surprise, an adequately armed defender could significantly damage incoming hovercraft or helicopters. But the outcome would also depend on the result of intensive air and sea battles around these islands. For now, the superior performance of the U.S. Lockheed-Martin F-22A fifth-generation fighter and the Virginia class nuclear-powered attack submarine provide a margin of superiority that undergirds deterrence, but this could change quickly as the PLA Air Force increases the number of capable fourth-generation fighters supported by AWACS radar aircraft, followed by fifth-generation fighters that could even the odds, especially if China decides to strike first. Growing numbers of PLAN air defense destroyers like the new Type 052D could also help deny air dominance to Japanese and U.S. forces.

However, China could also gain the upper hand should it successfully develop its own tilt rotor aircraft, an ambition it likely has been pursuing for most of the last decade. In a surprising revelation, an article published August 28, 2013 on the web page of the China Helicopter Research and Development Institute (CHRDI) goes further, saying that China is now developing a quad tiltrotor design called the Blue Whale, with the goal of carrying 20 tons of cargo at speeds in excess of 300 miles per hour, with a combat radius of 500 miles. A model of the Blue Whale appeared at a Chinese helicopter technology expo recently held in Tianjin, at least confirming it is an active program.

Blue Whale’s performance goals are very close to a now lapsed Bell-Boeing program to develop a V-44 Quad TiltRotor, which faded with evolving heavy-lift requirements for the U.S. Army’s Future Combat System of programs, in turn cancelled in 2009. CHRDI does not reveal when they expect the Blue Whale to enter service or how China will overcome technical challenges for a quad tiltrotor that a 2005 U.S. Defense Science Board study said would take 20 to 25 years to overcome. By 2008 to 2009 the heavy lift program was punted to the U.S. Air Force-controlled Joint Future Theater Lift program, intended to develop a replacement for the venerable Lockheed-Martin C-130, perhaps by the late 2020s. China may think it can succeed with a quad tiltrotor design before the U.S. fields a new vertical heavy lifter. The operational implications of such a capability go well beyond the East China Sea, but may matter there sooner.

For Beijing, control of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and the much larger Sakashima Islands, which have ports and airfields, is not simply a matter of salving historical resentments or even controlling resources; it is a contest for geostrategic position to influence the future of democratic Taiwan. From the Senkakus and especially the Sakashimas, the PLA can more easily impose an air and sea blockade on Taiwan or launch multi-axis attacks to rapidly take airfields to aid follow-on invasion forces. Before making any military moves, mere possession of these islands allows Beijing to exert far greater political pressure on Taipei to make “peace” at the expense of its virtual American ally and Tokyo. Occupation of the islands would also give Beijing greater legitimacy on which to develop latent claims to other islands in the Ryukyu chain.

The Miyako Strait in the Sakashimas also must be passed by Chinese naval forces trying to reach the Pacific Ocean. This group of seemingly negligible islands are in fact the lock in the door that keeps the PLA Navy from cruising the Pacific at will, a key link in the so-called “First Island Chain.” For Tokyo and Washington, preserving Japanese control over these islands proves to Beijing that it cannot use force to solve maritime territory disputes, but also gives Japanese and U.S. forces a large number of island base options from which to counter China’s rapidly growing air and naval forces.

At a time when Washington is far more preoccupied with preserving adequate strategic capabilities under threat from sequestration-enforced defense budget reductions, an expensive heavy-lift tiltrotor development program, like so many other programs, has crossed the line from “need” to “needless luxury.” But the absence of this level of capability may have consequences. Without the means to put decisive counter-invasion forces on these islands at a moment’s notice, Japan will have to consider something it has been very reluctant to do: militarize these islands. Tokyo is already considering the development of a 500 km short-range ballistic missile to defend these distant islands. Missiles, of course, fly much faster than the Osprey. On one level, China’s looming threat justifies such moves, but deploying missiles will encourage China’s buildup as well as anti-Japan factions in Taipei.

Despite its much advertised military and political-economic pivot/rebalance toward Asia, it remains an uncomfortable fact for Washington that successful military deterrence of Beijing will also require that the U.S. remain ahead in a growing, multi-faceted arms race. In the East China Sea this arms race and its implications are taking shape rather rapidly.

Richard D. Fisher, Jr. is a Senior Fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center and author of China’s Military Modernization, Building for Regional and Global Reach, (Stanford, 2010).

For Wikipedia’s entry on Zubr-class (or what the Chinese call Bison) LCAC, click here.