Tag Archives: Senkaku islands

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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China’s new map includes “Second National Territory” of oceans

On June 25, 2014, Reuters reports that China has unveiled a new official map of the country giving greater play to its claims on the South China Sea by making the disputed waters and its numerous islets and reefs more clearly seem like national territory.

Although previous maps published by Beijing included China’s claim to most of the South China Sea, that claim was depicted in a little box in a bottom corner to enable the rest of the country to fit on the map. That placement made the South China Sea’s islands appear more like an appendage rather than an integral part of China.

The new, longer map dispenses with the box, and shows continental China along with its self-declared sea boundary in the South China Sea — stretching right down to the coasts of Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines — on one complete map.

An unnamed official with the map’s publishers told the Chinese government’s official newspaper People’s Daily that the new “vertical map of China has important meaning for promoting citizens’ better understanding of … maintaining (our) maritime rights and territorial integrity.”

H/t CODA’s M.S.

New map of China 2014Click map to enlarge. Note the purple dashes marking the South China and East China Seas as parts of China.

Indeed, China’s recent aggressive moves in the South China Sea, as well as last November’s declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea, are but indicators of an overall policy shift by the Chinese military from a land-based to an ocean defense strategy.

From p. 230 of Maria Hsia Chang’s Return of the Dragon: China’s Wounded Nationalism (Westview, 2001):

An article in [Beijing’s Guofang journal] National Defense in 1995 explains that, “In the past, for a long period of time,” humanity primarily relied on land for their survival and development, thinking that “national territory (guotu ) only meant dry land.” But in today’s world, due to rapid increases in population and dwindling land and resources, “national territory” must mean more than “land territory” (lingtu ) but should include “territorial waters” (linghai ). This has led nation-states to turn to the “oceans” (haiyang ) — most of which are still “virgin territory” — in their search for new “living space” (shengchun kongjiang  ).

The PRC  now conceives oceans to be its “second national territory” (dier guotu  ). It defines “maritime national territory” (haiyang guotu ) as “the maritime portion of any land and space belong to or under the jurisdiction of a coastal country.” China’s “second national territory” includes 12 territorial seas (linghai ), 24 “maritime adjacent regions” (haili pilian qu ), 200 maritime economic exclusive zones and continental shelves — totaling more than 3 million square kilometers or one-third of China’s land mass.

Defense of its “national maritime territory” requires Beijing to shift its defense strategy from one of “coastal defense” (jin’an fangyu ) to “offshore defense” (jinhai fangyu ). National Defense maintains that since “the frontline of maritime national defense lies beyond China’s territorial waters . . . there will be times” when China’s defense of its seas “may require doing battle in farther maritime regions” including “international waters and seabeds.” China’s perimeter of “offshore defense” is conceived to include two “island chains.” The first chain stretches from the Aleutians to the Kurils, the Japanese archipelago, the Ryukyus, Taiwan, the Philippine archipelago, and the Greater Sunda Islands. The “second island chain” comprises the Bonins, the Marianas, Guam, and the Palau archipelago.

See also:

~StMA

PLA officer says China must establish Air Defense Identification Zone in South China Sea

On Nov. 23, 2013, China announced that it had set up an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that includes the Japan-held Senkaku Islands, which Chinese call Diaoyutai and over which China also claims ownership.

China-Japan ADIZs

On Feb. 2, 2014, in a Foreign Ministry press release, Beijing dismissed Japanese media reports that said China was preparing to establish a South China Sea ADIZ, but seemed to leave open the possibility that China might do so in the future.

Beijing claims ownership of islands in the South China Sea, which is contested by a number of countries, including Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei, and Taiwan.

South China Sea

However, 19 days later on Feb. 21, 2014, a senior researcher and officer in China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said that establishing an ADIZ in the South China Sea is essential to China’s national interest.

Reuters reports that Senior Colonel Li Jie, a researcher at the PLA Navy’s Military Academy and frequent media commentator, said “The establishment of another ADIZ over the South China Sea is necessary for China’s long-term national interest.”

Li’s remark came in the context of a discussion about remarks made by U.S. Captain James Fanell, director of intelligence and information operations at the US Pacific Fleet. As The Diplomat reported, at a recent U.S. Naval Institute conference Capt. Fanell said that the PLA had held a drill to practice defeating Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Forces in the East China Sea as a prelude to seizing the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. Fanell also predicted that China would establish an ADIZ in the South China Sea by 2015 at the latest.

See “Dir. of US Navy Intelligence: Chinese Navy in drills to take Senkaku and invade Okinawa.”

Col. Li characterized Fanell’s remark as America’s attempt to deter China from establishing a South China Sea ADIZ.

The Pentagon quickly distanced itself from Fanell’s remarks, with Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby saying that “those were his views to express. What I can tell you about what Secretary Hagel believes is that we all continue to believe that the peaceful prosperous rise of China is a good thing for the region, for the world.  We continue to want to improve our bilateral military relations with China.” Blah. Blah. Blah.

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~StMA

Russia & China to hold joint naval drills in East China Sea

East China Sea Air Defense Identification ZoneChina’s East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone

Reuters reports (via The Sydney Morning Herald), May 1, 2014, that on April 30, China said it would conduct joint naval drills with Russia in the East China Sea off Shanghai in late May, in what it called a bid to deepen military co-operation.

China’s defense ministry did not give an exact location in the East China Sea, where Beijing is locked in an increasingly bitter dispute with Japan over the ownership of a group of uninhabited islets called Senkaku by Japanese and Diaoyu by Chinese.

“These drills are regular exercises held by China and Russia’s navies, and the purpose is to deepen practical co-operation between the two militaries, to raise the ability to jointly deal with maritime security threats,” the ministry said on its website. It provided no other details.

China alarmed Japan, South Korea and the United States last year when it announced an air defense identification zone for the East China Sea, covering the Senkaku islands.

The Beijing government, which is swiftly ramping up military spending, has regularly dispatched patrols to the East China Sea since it established the defense zone.

China was angered last week after US President Barack Obama assured ally Japan that Washington was committed to its defense, including the disputed isles. (See “Obama makes promises to Japan and South Korea“)

Earlier this month, Tokyo announced it would break ground on a new radar base on Yonaguni island close to Taiwan and the Senkakus. (See “Japan expands its military footprint for first time in 40 years to counter China“)

China and Russia have close diplomatic, security and economic ties, and regularly carry out military exercises together.

~StMA

Japan expands its military footprint for first time in 40 years to counter China

Yonaguni

Nobuhiro Kubo reports for ReutersApril 19, 2014, that for the first time in more than 40 years, Japan undertook its first military expansion at the western end of its island chain by breaking ground on a military radar station on the Yonaguni island off Taiwan. When constructed, 100 troops will man the radar station. 

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Note: Yonaguni Island, a population around 1700, is one of the Yaeyama Islands and the westernmost inhabited island of Japan. It is the last of the Ryukyu Islands chain, and lies about 67 miles from the east coast of Taiwan, and 93 miles from the disputed Senkaku or Diaoyu islets. (For more, go here.)

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The move risks angering China, locked in a dispute with Japan over the nearby Senkaku or Diaoyu islands which they both claim.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, who attended a ceremony on Yonaguni island to mark the start of construction, suggested the military presence could be enlarged to other islands in the seas southwest of Japan’s main islands.

This is the first deployment since the U.S. returned Okinawa (1972) and calls for us to be more on guard are growing,” Onodera told reporters. “I want to build an operation able to properly defend islands that are part of Japan’s territory.”

The military radar station on Yonaguni, part of a longstanding plan to improve defense and surveillance, gives Japan a lookout just 150 km (93 miles) from the Japanese-held Senkaku islands also claimed by China.

More than that, building the radar station could also extend Japanese monitoring to the Chinese mainland and track Chinese ships and aircraft circling the disputed Senkakus.

Heigo Sato, a professor at Takushoku University and a former researcher at the Defense Ministry’s National Institute for Defense Studies, said the new base on Yonaguni “should give Japan the ability to expand surveillance to near the Chinese mainland. It will allow early warning of missiles and supplement the monitoring of Chinese military movements.”

The 30 sq km (11 sq mile) Yonanguni island is home to 1,500 people and known for strong rice liquor, cattle, sugar cane and scuba diving. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to put troops there shows Japan’s concerns about the vulnerability of its thousands of islands and the perceived threat from China.

Japan does not specify an exact enemy when discussing its defense strategy but it makes no secret it perceives China generally as a threat as it becomes an Asian power that could one day rival Japan’s ally in the region, the United States. In its National Defense Programme Guidelines issued in December, Japan expressed “great concern” over China’s military buildup and “attempts to change the status quo by coercion” in the sea and air.

China’s decision last year to establish an air-defense identification zone in the East China Sea, including the skies above the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islets, further rattled Tokyo.

Japanese and Chinese navy and coastguard ships have played cat-and-mouse around the uninhabited islands since Japan nationalized the territory in 2012. Japanese warplanes scrambled against Chinese planes a record 415 times in the year through to March, Japan’s Defense Ministry said last week.

Tapping concern about China, Abe raised military spending last fiscal year for the first time in 11 years to help bolster Japan’s capability to fight for islands with a new marine unit, more longer-range aircraft, amphibious assault vehicles and helicopter carriers. Japan’s thousands of islands give it nearly 30,000 km (18,600 miles) of coastline to defend.

While many of the islanders on Yonaguni are looking forward to hosting the radar base because of the economic boost it will bring, others fear becoming a target should Japan end up in a fight.

“Opinion is split down the middle,” Tetsuo Funamichi, the head of the Japan Agricultural Association’s local branch, told Reuters. “It’s good for the economy if they come, but some people worry that we could be attacked in an emergency.”

When Defense Minister Onodera was in Yonaguni to mark the start of construction of the radar station, he was greeted by about 50 protesters who tried to block him from entering the construction site. A protestor who declined to be identified said, “Becoming a target is frightening, they won’t talk to us about it, we haven’t discussed it.”

~StMA

Obama makes promises to Japan and South Korea

To Japan:

The New York Times reports that while he was in Japan, on Thursday, April 24, 2014:

Obama … declared that the United States was obligated by a security treaty to protect Japan in its confrontation with China over a clump of islands [the Senkaku or Diaoyu islets] in the East China Sea. But he stopped short of siding with Japan in the dispute regarding who has sovereignty over the islands, and carefully calibrated his statement to avoid antagonizing China.

The net result, seen in a news conference in which the leaders referred to each other a bit stiffly as Barack and Shinzo, was an alliance clearly on firmer footing than it was earlier, but still vulnerable to political frailties on each side. […]

The president’s statement about the United States’ obligations toward Japan was important because it was the first time he had explicitly put the disputed islands under American protection, though Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently made the same statement and the policy has been held by successive administrations.

“This is a very important turning point for the United States-Japan alliance because it means the period of drift under President Obama has finally come to an end,” said Yuichi Hosoya, an expert on American-Japanese relations at Keio University in Tokyo. “The fact that this was said by the president will have a huge psychological impact on Japanese officials and people.”

The Chinese government reacted swiftly, saying it was “firmly opposed” to Mr. Obama’s position. More than anything, Mr. Obama appeared eager to defuse tensions over the islands, referring to them as a “rock” and saying they should not be allowed to derail a relationship that could otherwise be productive.

“It would be a profound mistake to continue to see escalation around this issue rather than dialogue and confidence-building measures between Japan and China,” Mr. Obama said.

[Japan’s prime minister] Mr. Abe said he was encouraged by Mr. Obama’s pledge to protect the islands. “On this point,” he said, “I fully trust President Obama.”

To South Korea:

The AP reports that while he was in Seoul, on April 26, 2014:

President Barack Obama warned North Korea on Saturday that the United States “will not hesitate to use our military might” to defend allies, as he sought to showcase U.S. power in the region amid China’s growing influence and Pyongyang’s unpredictable nuclear threats.

Obama’s visit to Seoul comes as North Korea has threatened to conduct its fourth nuclear test, leading Obama to raise the possibility of further sanctions.

The commitment that the United States of America has made to the security of the Republic of Korea only grows stronger in the face of aggression,” Obama said in a speech to some of the 28,000 American service members stationed in South Korea to keep watch on its northern neighbor. “Our alliance does not waiver with each bout of their attention seeking. It just gains the support of the rest of the world.” […]

Obama ridiculed North Korea’s attempt to show force. “Anybody can make threats,” he said. “Anyone can move an army. Anyone can show off a missile. That doesn’t make you strong.”

He said real strength comes from having an open participatory democracy, open markets and a society free to speak out against its government.

“We don’t use our military might to impose these things on others, but we will not hesitate to use our military might to defend our allies and our way of life,” Obama said to cheers from the uniformed troops who filled a field house at Yongsan Garrison, headquarters for U.S. forces in South Korea.

Obama’s 10-minute speech followed a rare joint defense briefing with South Korean President Park Geun-hye that focused on efforts to counter the North’s nuclear ambitions.

See also “Pentagon official: U.S. budget will not allow an Asia pivot,” March, 2014.

~StMA

China impounds Japanese ship as compensation for WWII debt

Baosteel Emotion

On Saturday, April 19, 2014, China’s Shanghai Maritime Court seized a Japanese cargo ship, the Baosteel Emotion owned by Mitsui OSK Lines, over a pre-war debt.

Baosteel Emotion was seized over unpaid compensation for two Chinese ships that, in 1936, had been leased to Mitsui’s predecessor Daido Kaiun from Chung Wei (Zhongwei) Steamship Co. The two ships were promptly appropriated by the Japanese government and later lost at sea.

Kyodo News Agency said this appears to be the first time that a Japanese company asset had been confiscated as war-linked compensation.

Zhongwei Shipping had sought compensation after World War Two and the case was reopened at a Shanghai court in 1988. The court ruled in 2007 that Mitsui had to pay 190 million yuan ($30.5m) as compensation for the two ships leased to Daido. Mitsui appealed against the decision, but it was upheld in 2012.

Yesterday, April 21, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the Japanese government considers China’s sudden seizure of the cargo ship “extremely regrettable,” which “is likely to have, in general, a detrimental effect on Japanese businesses working in China.”

The seizure comes with ties between Tokyo and Beijing severely strained amid rows over the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea which both claim and other rumbling historical issues.

Earlier this year, a court in China for the first time accepted a case filed by Chinese citizens seeking compensation from Japanese firms over forced labor during World War Two. Japan has always held that the issue of war-related compensation was settled by a 1972 agreement between the two sides when relations between China and Japan were normalized.

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Note: The 1972 China-Japan Joint Communiqué that preceded the 1972 Treaty of Peace and Friendship Between Japan and the People’s Republic of China, states:

“The Japanese side is keenly conscious of the responsibility for the serious damage that Japan caused in the past to the Chinese people through war, and deeply reproaches itself. […] The Government of the People’s Republic of China declares that in the interest of the friendship between the Chinese and the Japanese peoples, it renounces its demand for war reparation from Japan.

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But now for the first time, a Chinese court has ignored that 1972 agreement – and the Chinese government appears to be giving full support, says the BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Tokyo. It is another sign of just how low relations between China and Japan have sunk.

Shogo Suzuki, a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester in the U.K. who studies China-Japan relations, said, “Many of the major Japanese companies like Mitsubishi or Mitsui have existed through back to the pre-war era and could all be implicated in one way or another. Japanese companies can’t extract themselves easily at this stage so I think they’ll be quite worried.”

On Monday, meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to the Yasukuni Shrine to mark the spring festival, about which China promptly protested. Yasukuni is where the souls of Japan’s war dead are enshrined, including war criminals – and it is seen by regional neighbours as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.

Sources: BBC, Bloomberg News

~StMA