Tag Archives: Japan’s ADIZ

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:



South Korea reacts to China’s Air Defense Identification Zone by expanding its ADIZ

ADIZ overlap mapYellow lines demarcate China’s ADIZ; red lines demarcate Japan’s ADIZ. Red shaded area is the overlap between China’s and Japan’s ADIZs.

Overlooked in the uproar over China’s announcement, on Nov. 23, 2013, of an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) is the fact that Beijing’s exertion of  sovereignty over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, did not have to overlap with about 3,000 square kilometers of South Korea’s own ADIZ. The overlap encompasses South Korea’s Ieodo (Suyan) Rock, grazing the Western fringe of Jeju-do’s airspace in the process.

The overlap however is noted in Seoul.

The Hankyoreh began its report by noting the inclusion of Ieodo in the ADIZ, while South Korea’s defense minister Kim Min-seok said Korean aircraft would continue to fly in the area covered by the ADIZ without informing China.

In an attempt to offset tension, the Chinese press immediately disseminated a Chinese defense ministry statement that China had “no territorial dispute” with Seoul over Ieodo, and that Beijing and Seoul would resolve the issue via “friendly consultations and negotiations.”

On December 8, 2013, South Korea announced it is expanding its 62 year-old air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in a clear reaction to China’s own new ADIZ.  The announcement adds over 25,000 sq. mi to Korea’s ADIZ, which now covers the submerged rocks that are the subject of a territorial dispute between South Korea and China. Seoul’s new ADIZ also overlaps with the ADIZs of both China and Japan.

3 ADIZsClick map to enlarge

Unlike China, however, Seoul had conferred in advance with neighboring countries, including the U.S., China, and Japan, before its ADIZ announcement.

According to remarks by Jang Hyuk, head of policy for South Korea’s Defense Ministry, the government believes that the move “will not significantly impact our relationships with China and with Japan as we try to work for peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia”  and that “related countries” are overall “in agreement that this move complies with international regulations and is not an excessive measure.”

China had a muted reaction to South Korea’s announcement. Partially, this was an inevitable result of China’s own insistence that its ADIZ was in accordance with international precedent and convention — China would have a hard time now arguing that South Korea has no right to expand its own ADIZ. In response to a question about the issue, China Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Hong Lei confirmed that China had been notified in advance by the Republic of Korea (ROK). Nevertheless, “China expresses regret” over the decision to expand the Korean ADIZ. “China will stay in communication with the ROK in the principle of equality and mutual respect. We hope that the ROK will meet China halfway.”

As for the issue of the disputed territories with South Korea, Hong made an odd remark — that “an ADIZ is not the [sic] territorial airspace … It has nothing to do with maritime and air jurisdiction.” But that is precisely what China’s ADIZ is, having everything to do with “territorial airspace” and with “maritime and air jurisdiction”!

China’s restraint towards South Korea only draws more attention to its diplomatic row with Japan. Japan’s parliament recently passed a resolution calling for China to rescind its ADIZ. China’s reaction to this development was far more aggressive than its response to South Korea:  “Japan’s accusation against China confuses right and wrong and is totally groundless,” Hong Lei said. China is “strongly dissatisfied” with Japan, two words that China did not use for South Korea’s ADIZ.

Interestingly, most of the concern Chinese scholars do show over South Korea’s move circles back to Japan. In an op-ed for China News, Xue Baosheng of Jilin University writes that China is concerned that Japan might use Korea’s action as an excuse to make its own provocative moves, and that South Korea may not truly understand the “sinister motives” of Japanese authorities, but instead is used by Japan to attack China.

Most Chinese commentators, including Xue, feel a certain kinship with South Korea because both countries suffered under Japanese occupation during World War II. An editorial in China’s Global Times dismissed Korea’s move as a “small tactical advantage” with no major strategic significance, but noted that if Japan had been the one to expand its ADIZ, it would have provoked a strong reaction from China.

The Global Times also noted how different the U.S.’s reaction was to South Korea’s expanded ADIZ. The U.S. State Department issued a statement implicitly comparing South Korea’s ADIZ announcement to China’s: “We appreciate the ROK’s efforts to pursue this action in a responsible, deliberate fashion by prior consultations with the United States and its neighbors, including Japan and China. We also appreciate [South Korea’s] commitment to implement this adjustment to its ADIZ in a manner consistent with international practice and respect for the freedom of overflight and other internationally lawful uses of international airspace,” noting that South Korea does not expect commercial aircraft to comply with the ADIZ regulations. In contrast, the Global Times argued that U.S. and Japanese hostility to China is a reflection of China’s status a “rising major power.”

But the Global Times‘ paternalistic benevolence toward South Korea has its limits. The editorial warned that, should South Korea cross the line in its relationship with China, China could retaliate by disrupting economic ties or by stirring up trouble with North Korea.

Sources: Ankit Panda for The Diplomat, Nov. 28, 2013; Shannon Tiezzi for The Diplomat, Dec. 10, 2013.

The reason for the difference in China’s attitude toward Japan’s ADIZ vs. South Korea’s ADIZ is rooted in China’s irridentist nationalism. In contrast to its experiences with Japan, China had lost no territory to nor had China been invaded by Korea.