Images obtained from the Airbus Defense and Space-owned Pleaides satellite have confirmed China’s buildup of military forces within attack range of Japan’s Senkakus islands.
The Washington Free Beacon reported construction of a helicopter base on Nanji Island was detected by the commercial spy satellite in October. Recent satellite photos revealed China is constructing an airfield with 10 landing pads for helicopters on the island.
Nanji Island is off the coast of Zhejiang province, which is approximately 186 miles northwest of the Senkakus. It is amongst a group of resource-rich islets called the Diaoyu Islands by China.
Japan’s Kyodo News Service was the first to reveal the military buildup on the island last month. It quoted a Chinese source who stated a landing strip was being built. However, the satellite photo did not confirm an airstrip, only the construction of helicopter landing pads. The pads indicated that China will utilize the base for transports by helicopter, not fighter jets.
According to military analysts, the new military base appears to be in preparation for an attack or seizure of the Senkakus islands by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
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 Senkakus/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.”
There has been tension between China and Japan over the Senkakus islands since 2012. Tokyo purchased three of the islands from private owners in a bid to prevent then Gov. Shintaro Ishihara from buying them. China disputed the purchase but Tokyo stood by its claim that it was better it buy them than Ishihara.
Chinese ships, warplanes and unmanned surveillance drones have been observed flying close to the islands, prompting a multitude of Japanese maritime and aerial intercepts. China’s Defense Ministry have not disputed the military buildup on Nanji.
On December 25, PLA Sr. Col. Yang Yujun told reporters in Beijing that Japanese news reports of the construction were “irresponsible.”
“There is no doubt that China has the right to conduct activities and construction on its own territory,” he said. “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.”
A Japanese Embassy spokesman declined to comment on the Chinese military construction, stating, “We are in the process of gathering information on this, and thus not able to comment.”
The Pentagon has not responded to emails requesting a comment on the situation.