A new E-2C early warning patrol plane unit was launched Sunday at an Air Self-Defense Force base in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, to bolster surveillance amid repeated intrusions by Chinese vessels into Japanese territorial waters.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told ASDF members at a ceremony commemorating the unit’s launch that they face “a dangerous situation” because China’s continued attempts to “change the status quo by force and threaten the rule of law could trigger emergencies.”

Chinese vessels have been shadowing or intruding into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands on a regular basis since the chain was effectively nationalized by the Japanese government in 2012.

The uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, long administered by Japan, are claimed as Diaoyu by China and Tiaoyutai by Taiwan and are believed to be near lucrative gas and mineral deposits.

The ASDF has 13 E-2C aircraft deployed at Misawa airbase in Aomori Prefecture, but four of them will be transferred to Naha to bolster the new unit.

Another new unit will be established at an ASDF base in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, to operate an airborne warning and control system.

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