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Japan Commissions Oil Tanker To Combat Chinese Presence In East China Sea

White Beach Port

A new oil tanker commissioned by Japan to carry fuel to Okinawa will fight a growing Chinese presence in the East China Sea, according to sources familiar with the geopolitical plan.

Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces are planning for a 300,000-barrel tanker to deliver hydrocarbons to White Beach port in Okinawa, where a sizeable U.S. military presence serves as Japan’s pseudo-army. The country is legally barred from having a military, according to its post-World War II constitution, written by the Allied powers.

"It takes too long time for ships to return to their base in (mainland) Kyushu for refueling so more are stopping in Okinawa instead," said one of the anonymous sources.

China and Japan are locked in a dispute over jurisdiction over a group of islands in the sea. Chinese military strength is growing in the area, adding tension to the stressed relationship. Further complicating the diplomatic picture, the Senkakus, which China calls the “Diaoyu” islands are claimed by yet another U.S. Pacific ally, Taiwan, which refers to them as the “Tiaoyu” islets.

"Activity at White Beach has increased by three to four times, but there isn't enough space to expand capacity," another shipping source said.

The origins of the conflict over the islands began after World War II, when it was decided that the question of the Senkaku was left for a future generation to resolve.  Tokyo knew that the islands were Japanese, and Beijing was unable to enforce Chinese claims of ownership.  

Related: One Of The World’s Largest Crude Storage Facilities Has Been Emptied

In 2010, a drunken Chinese fishing boat captain changed the scope of what was once a minor issue. The captain rammed two Japanese patrol vessels and was arrested, which sparked anti-Japanese riots in China and a rare earth shipments embargo, forcing Tokyo to release the captain who returned home a national hero.

Since then, the Chinese have been sending fleets of fishing boats with patrol boats into Senkaku waters.  Japanese Coast Guard boats are forced to drive them away dozens of times a year.

By Zainab Calcuttawala for Oilprice.com

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