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China Building a Base Near the Senkakus

The cooling of tensions between Japan and China over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands toward the end of 2014 is starting to look rather temporary. According to IHS Jane’s satellite imagery analysis, China is building a military base with ten heliports on an island about 190 miles away from the Senkakus (for reference, one new Chinese military helicopter now undergoing tests has an operating range of about 485 miles). The Diplomat sums up the situation:

The imagery, captured on 13 October 2014 by Airbus Defence and Space’s Pleaides satellite, shows a heliport with 10 landing pads in the centre of Nanji Island, one of a group of islands that are part of Zhejiang province.

The construction at Nanji was reported on 22 December 2014 by Japan’s Kyodo News, citing unidentified Chinese sources.

A comparison with DigitalGlobe imagery captured in October 2013 shows that the helipads are new additions to the island, along with wind turbines that sit along a ridge on the island’s southeast peninsula. In contrast to the media reports, there are no signs of an airstrip under construction, although existing radar and communications sites are clear from the imagery. […]

“Some media in Japan make irresponsible speculations about China’s legitimate activities and construction and play up tensions in the region. It is pure media hype,” [Chinese Ministry of National Defense] spokesperson Yang Yujun told a regular press conference.

Japan is building up its strategic capabilities near the Senkakus too, the Diplomat continues:

In April, Tokyo announced measures to strengthen its defense and surveillance capabilities with a troop presence and military radar station in Yonaguni, 150 km (93 miles) from the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. It is also developing amphibious forces that will be based in Nagasaki, among other moves under consideration as signaled in its record defense budget disclosed earlier this month.

And so the quiet arms race in the East China Sea continues. Japan and China’s ships and jets may have stopped menacing each other for now, but last year’s talk of de-escalation is starting to sound more hollow all the time.

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