China has built a pier for warships at a site it is developing as a military base to the west of the Senkaku Islands, sources said Friday.
The facility is on the main island in the Nanji chain off the port city of Wenzhou. It may be aimed at addressing contingencies with Japan and the United States, which have both criticized Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the waters, the sources said.
The island chain is about 100 km closer to the Japan-administered Senkakus than Okinawa and its many U.S. military bases.
China also appears keen to strengthen monitoring of the air defense identification zone it declared over the sea in 2013. Neither Japan nor the United States recognize the zone.
The sources said the pier has been built on Nanji Island, and several warships have already been seen using it. The 70- to 80-meter-long pier can also accommodate landing craft.
The islands already have an advanced radar system in place and a heliport for use by carrier-based helicopters. Plans are underway to build a runway for military use, but construction does not appear to have started yet, the sources said. Military aircraft conducted drills in the area in spring, they said.
Tensions over the Senkaku Islands remain high. China and Taiwan claim the uninhabited islets as Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai, respectively. Japan is increasingly concerned about China’s habit of repeatedly sending government vessels into nearby waters there.
A plan is underway to build a major China Coast Guard base in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, to support vessels monitoring the Senkakus.
A Japanese was detained in Wenzhou in May last year after purportedly investigating a military facility and later indicted.
Beijing has a string of territorial spats going with other Asian countries, notably the Philippines and Vietnam, in the South China Sea. Japan and the United States have criticized land reclamation by China in the area and the construction of outposts apparently for military purposes.