China has built a new pier for warships at a site under development as a military base near the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, sources close to the matter said on Friday.
By building the pier on one of the islands in the Nanji chain off the port of Wenzhou, Beijing is apparently aiming to improve its preparedness to counter Japan and the United States, both critical of China’s growing maritime assertiveness, the sources said.
The island chain is about 100km closer to the disputed islets than the main island of Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture, home to a large portion of US military bases in Japan.
The disputed small islands are controlled by Japan, which calls them the Senkaku.
China also appears keen to enhance monitoring of the air defence identification zone it declared over the sea in 2013 to fortify its territorial claims. Neither Japan nor the United States have recognised the zone.
The sources said the pier was constructed on Nanji Island, the largest in the chain, and several warships have already been seen docking there. The 70 to 80-metre long pier can also accommodate landing craft.
The islands already have an advanced radar system in place and a heliport for use by aircraft carrier-based helicopters.
Plans are under way to build a runway for military use on the island, but construction does not appear to have started, the sources said. Exercises by military aircraft were held in the area in the spring, they said.
Tensions remain high between Japan and China over theDiaoyu Islands.
Japan is increasingly concerned about Chinese government vessels’ repeated entry into Japanese waters near the chain.
A plan for the China Coastguard to build a large-scale base at Wenzhou is underway to boost support for vessels monitoring the Diaoyus.
A Japanese citizen was detained in Wenzhou in May last year and later indicted. Before his detention, the man was allegedly investigating a military facility.