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Japan Begins Building Base Near Islands Disputed With China

April 19 (Bloomberg) -- A military base Japan is building on its westernmost island, near an archipelago claimed by China, will fill a gap in security, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said at a ceremony marking the start of construction.

Onodera today flew to remote Yonaguni, an island of about 1,500 residents that will be home to the surveillance center scheduled to begin operating by the end of March 2016. About 150 troops will be stationed there, public broadcaster NHK said.

The radar base will improve monitoring in an area covering uninhabited isles known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, and provide early warning of any “provocations,” according to the Defense Ministry’s website. The islands are claimed by both sides.

“This unit will play an extremely important role by filling a gap in the deployment of Self-Defense Forces in the southwestern region,” Onodera said in a video of the event posted on NHK’s website.

Ships and planes from the two nations have tailed each other around the disputed East China Sea islands since Japan bought three of them from a private owner in 2012. Dispatches of fighter jets to pursue Chinese aircraft rose by a third in the past year to a record 415 times, the Defense Ministry said April 9.

Tensions have soured Sino-Japanese relations at a time when both are increasing military spending and seeking a greater role in the region. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hasn’t held a summit with his Chinese counterpart since taking office in December 2012 as resentment also simmers over Japan’s past invasion and occupation of much of China.

Building the base on an island known for its diving is opposed by some residents, who NHK showed demonstrating.

To contact the reporter on this story: Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo at ireynolds1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net Tony Barrett, Zahra Hankir

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