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Japan expands surveillance in East China Sea

Japan's military has opened a monitoring station on a contested island group in the East China Sea. The move has not gone down well in China and Taiwan.

Japan's defense ministry will keep a unit of 160 troops on the island of Yanaguni, which is only about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Taiwan, to monitor vessels and aircraft in the region.

"This is kind of a power vacuum area," according to Colonel Masashi Yamamoto, military attache with the Japanese embassy in Washington, D.C.

The new Self Defense Force base on Yonaguni is at the western extreme of a string of Japanese islands in the East China Sea, 150 km south of the disputed islands, which are known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.

"Considering North Korean activities and the frequent invasion of our territory by China around these islands, we think we need to beef up our intelligence capability so that Japan can react better," Yamamoto said.

The move gives Japan a permanent intelligence gathering post near Taiwan, and the facility could reportedly also be used as a base for military operations in the region.

Japan has said it will increase its Self-Defense Forces in the East China Sea by about one-fifth to almost 10,000 by 2021, including missile batteries that will help Japan draw a defensive curtain along the island chain.

The deployment fits into Japan's military build up

along the island chain, which stretches 1,400 km from the Japanese mainland.

The move is part of Japan's

strategy of keeping China at bay in the western Pacific

as Beijing is seen in Tokyo gaining further strategic control of the neighboring

South China Sea.

The base is near the edge of a controversial air defense identification zone set up by China in 2013.

Unhappy in Beijing

Tokyo's move has already set off protests in Chinese cities and a boycott of Japanese products.

A Chinese battle cruiser in the South China Sea

A Chinese battle cruiser in the South China Sea

"This radar station is going to irritate China," Nozomu Yoshitomi, a professor at Nihon University and a former major general in the Self Defense Force, told Reuters. Chinese coast guard ships have been spotted more often in the region since Tokyo's purchase of three of the disputed islets in September 2012.

A strategic and symbolic site

Chinese ships sailing from their eastern seaboard must pass through the area to reach the Western Pacific. Beijing needs the route both as a supply line to the rest of the world's oceans and also to project its naval power.

The island group has been administered by Japan since 1895, although the Chinese stake their claim based on its location near Taiwan, traditionally a part of China. The islands have become more significant in recent years due to their location near rich fishing grounds, shipping lanes and potential oil and gas reserves.

The 30 sq km outcrop is home to 1,500 people, who mostly raise cattle and grow sugar cane. The island voted in favor of hosting the troops in a nonbinding referendum in February 2015.

jbh/kms (dpa, Reuters)

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