After two hours of nothing but the vast expanse of the East China Sea, a steel structure topped by a streak of flame and a helicopter pad appears on the horizon, growing rapidly in the window of a Maritime Self-Defense Force P-3C patrol plane.

The Chinese have built this production platform atop the Pinghu oil and natural gas field, which lies half-way between Japan and China, about 430 km northwest of Naha, Okinawa Prefecture.

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