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Talk of the Day -- Chinese hilltop military airbase in spotlight

2012/05/26 21:10:03

China has built a new military airbase on a hilltop in its southeastern coastal province of Fujian that is strategically designed to strengthen its sovereignty claim to the disputed Tiaoyutai Islands in the East China Sea, a local newspaper reported Saturday.

Citing military sources, the report said construction of the Shuimen airbase is almost completed and that Chinese warplanes such as the J-10 fighter, the Sukhoi Su-30 jet fighter and unmanned ground attack drones have gradually been deployed there.

The base, located some 246 km from Taipei and 380 km from the uninhabited Tiaoyutai Islands, is also equipped with S-300 surface-to-air missiles, the report said.

Military intelligence sources said the long-range air defenseS-300 missiles have been deployed to counteract Japanese and U.S. warplanes such as the F-15 and the F-18.

The sources also noted that early warning radar systems installed on Taiwan proper and the air defense radar system deployed on the outlying Dongyin islet can detect movement of aircraft at the newChinese airbase.

The following are excerpts from a special report in the Saturday edition of the United Evening News on China's new military airbase:

Intelligence sources said China bulldozed a stretch of more than 2 kilometers of mountainous land at an elevation of 364 meters to make way for the construction of the airbase.

The hilly land in Fujian's Shuimen Township was originally not suitable for construction of an airbase. China, however, decided to build the base in the region at a huge cost to reinforce its sovereignty claims over the Tiaoyutai Islands and the Chunxiao undersea oil and natural gas field in the East China Sea.

The Taioyutai Islands, located about 100 nautical miles off Taiwan's northeastern tip, are claimed by Taiwan, China and Japan. The island group is known as the Diaoyutai Islands in China and the Senkaku Islands in Japan.

Satellite images of the airbase appeared on Google Earth in 2009 for the first time and by 2011, images of J-10 fighters, jet fuel trucks and other ground support equipment were already visible on Google Earth. Also seen were S-300 missiles with several launch pads.

Military sources said Chinese jet fighters can reach the Chunxiao oil field in seven minutes after takeoff from Shuimen and can reach the Tiaoyutais in 12 minutes.

Even though Su-30 fighters deployed at China's other southeastern coastal bases can cover those two strategic targets, the completion of the Shuimen airbase will greatly upgrade its operational efficiency in terms of contingency response time, military sources said.

Responding to the report, Ministry of National Defense spokesman Maj. Gen. Luo Shou-he said the ministry has a full grasp of the situation and has worked out response measures.

Nevertheless, civilian aviation experts said the inauguration of the new base will squeeze the maneuvering space of Taiwan's Air Force in the skies over the waters off northern Taiwan.

In contrast to China's increasingly assertive posture toward territorial disputes in the South China Sea and its active steps to strengthen claims to the Chunxiao gas field and Tiaoyutai Islands in the East China Sea, the experts said, Taiwan has shown little interest in addressing the issues, let alone taking concrete action to assert its claims to those regions.

Prior to 2008, Taiwan's coast guard patrol ships conducted regular patrols of the waters around the Chunxiao gas field off the Tiaoyutai Islands in a move to assert Taiwan's sovereignty claims.

This mission has since been canceled. Coast guard vessels now only stay at a temporarily demarcated line near the Tiaoyutai Islands to protect Taiwanese fishing boats from being harassed by Japanese or Chinese coast guard ships.

Taiwanese naval ships have also refrained from entering the disputed East China Sea to assert the country's sovereighty claims.

Some military experts have said the inauguration of the Shuimen airbase has allowed China to acquire air supremacy in the East China Sea.

Although Japan has also stepped up the expansion of airbases on its southwestern outlying islands near the Tiaoyutai Islands in recent years, it has lagged behind China in obtaining air supremacy in the region, according to the experts.

They further said that while China, Japan and the United States have conducted military drills in the East China Sea, all three parties have exercised self-restraint to avoid conflict. (May 26, 2012).

(By Sofia Wu)