China has seemingly shifted gears in a bid to bring the disputed Senkaku Islands under its control, Hiroyuki Akita reports for the Nikkei Asian Review.
The Senkaku Islands are an uninhabited island chain administered by Japan in the East China Sea. Despite the islands’ lack of a human population, it is believed that vast undersea oil reserves are located around the islands. The islands are also in a particularly plentiful fishing area.
China is now using its fishing industry to bolster its claim over the islands.
As the Nikkei Asian Review notes:
From January to September, the Japan Coast Guard told Chinese fishing boats operating within Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands to leave on 208 occasions, a 2.4-fold jump from last year and 26 times larger than the figure for 2011.
China has drastically increased the number of fishing vessels that it is permitting to sail into the disputed area — at the same time that it’s scaling back the number of its surveillance ships operating around the island chain.
China is attempting to use civilian vessels to erode Japan’s claim over the islands. It’s an insidious but possibly effective strategy. It normalizes the activity of Chinese vessels around the island chain, while the lack of any overt military involvement allows Beijing to claim a veneer of respect for Japan’s territorial integrity.
This change of strategy bears a striking similarity to China’s process of slowly eating away at disputed territory along its border with India.
Since the 1960s, China has slowly been moving its soldiers into disputed areas along the countries’ shared border at a pace that is never drastic enough to warrant a military reaction. Over the years, China has made gradual yet substantial territorial gains.
It is possible that the change of Chinese strategy in the Senkaku Islands follows a similar line of thought as in India. It’s part of a plan to slowly expand influence through measures that advance Chinese policy without being provocative enough to warrant a military response.
China’s disputes between Japan over the Senkaku Islands, as well as between various nations over the South China Sea, has the potential to destabilize southeast Asia, and even the broader world along with it. In September, one Chinese professor at a military academy warned that these maritime disputes could eventually lead to a third world war.
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