China’s military is building a large-scale base on islands off the coast of Zhejiang province, stepping closer to the Diaoyu Islands, several Chinese sources said yesterday. Construction is underway in the Nanji Islands, about 90km from southeast of Wenzhou, and about 300km northwest of the Japanese-administered, uninhabited Diaoyus in the East China Sea. Japan calls the Diaoyus the Senkakus. The new base is expected to enhance China’s readiness to respond to potential military crises in the region, as well as strengthen surveillance over the air defence identification zone that it declared over part of the East China Sea in November last year, the sources said. Sources said several large radar installations had been built at high points on the main Nanji Island. Several landing strips had been paved – likely for use by aircraft based on warships or patrol vessels – while more landing strips were set to be constructed on an island next to Nanji Island starting from next year. As the archipelago of 52 islands and islets is located about 100km closer to the Diaoyus than Okinawa’s main island – home to bases of Japan’s Self-Defence Forces and the United States military, the new base is likely to shake up Japan-US security strategies relating to the defence of the Diaoyus. Japan-China relations – tainted by territorial and wartime historical issues – were somewhat thawed by a meeting last month in Beijing between Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Xi Jinping. Military expansion may require the relocation of the roughly 2,500 civilians who live in the archipelago, most engaged in fishing, as well as the restriction of tourism at the summer vacation spot. The United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation listed 15 of the islands as a biosphere reserve in 1998, reflecting the diversity of the archipelago’s marine life.