China’s military is building a large military base on islands about 300 kilometers (190 miles) from an islet chain at the center of a territorial row with Japan, Kyodo News reported today, citing unidentified Chinese sources.
The base on the Nanji islands in Zhejiang Province is designed to enhance China’s readiness to respond to a potential military crisis and strengthen surveillance over an air defense identification zone it declared in the area in November last year, the news agency said. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to comment on the report.
The dispute over the East China Sea islets -- known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese -- clouds ties that remain fractious even after Chinese President Xi Jinping met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Beijing last month. Encounters between ships and planes from the two countries have raised the potential for a confrontation.
Several landing strips have been paved on the main Nanji island, Kyodo reported. The islands are about 100 kilometers closer to the disputed territory than the main island of Okinawa, which hosts about three-quarters of the U.S. bases in Japan. Two calls to China’s defense ministry went unanswered.
Li Jie, a senior researcher from the Chinese Naval Research Institute, said the People’s Liberation Army already has a military presence and a radar system on the islands.
“It’s a strategically important location because of its proximity to the Diaoyu Islands, it can provide support to the East China Sea air defense zone, and it’s a major naval point on the Chinese coastal defense lines,” said Li. “It’s unarguable that China would like to enhance the existing military presence there.”
Suga, Japan’s top government spokesman, told reporters in Tokyo today that his government was analyzing the information it had on the Chinese military. “China has rapidly increased its activities in surrounding waters and airspace, and we will continue to watch these movements,” he said.
Xu Guangyu, a retired PLA major general and senior adviser at Beijing-based research group the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said it was “absolutely normal” for the Chinese military to maintain or upgrade its facilities on the Nanji islands. “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, this can be misleading.”
In April, Japan began construction of a surveillance center on the remote island of Yonaguni to monitor activity around the disputed islands.