China intends to maintain patrol ships--and perhaps hundreds of fishing boats--in waters just off the disputed Senkaku Islands so they could approach the territory at any time, in order to pressure Japan and to demonstrate its claim of sovereignty to the rest of the world.
A constant presence by a Chinese flotilla is certain to heighten tensions between the two countries locked in a dispute over the Senkakus, which are administered by Japan but claimed by China.
A senior official of the farm ministry’s Fisheries Bureau said the Chinese government will enlist the help of the country’s fishermen in the campaign.
“We will put pressure on Japan through public-private efforts,” the official told The Asahi Shimbun on Sept. 19.
China dispatched government ships to waters off the Senkaku Islands, which it calls Diaoyu, after Japan purchased three of the five uninhabited islets from a private owner on Sept. 11.
The Japan Coast Guard reported that on Sept. 20 six Yuzheng fishery monitoring vessels from the Fisheries Bureau and four Haijian marine surveillance ships from the State Oceanic Administration were confirmed off the Senkakus.
“We will send monitoring ships in waves, and have them remain around the Diaoyu Islands at all times to display our will to defend our sovereignty,” the Chinese official said.
The official added that the Fisheries Bureau will also work closely with the State Oceanic Administration.
According to the Fisheries Bureau, as of Sept. 19 more than 700 Chinese fishing boats were operating within 127 nautical miles, or 235 kilometers, of the Senkakus. Of these, 23 were within 60 nautical miles, or 111 km.
The official said commercial fishing boats will enter waters close to the islands at a time to be decided “based on the situation,” indicating that it will depend on Japan’s response.
“Our monitoring ships will be on hand to protect fishing boats when they enter waters around the Diaoyu Islands,” the official said.
According to the official, the Fisheries Bureau operates more than 1,300 fishery monitoring vessels, including nine ships of more than 1,000 tons, and is currently building five large ships of more than 3,000 tons.
A senior official of the Japan Coast Guard said the agency was already braced for a more aggressive maritime offensive from China, considering the moves it has recently taken.
“We need to deal with it,” the official said.
The primary duty of fishery monitoring ships is to prevent illegal operations by fishing boats.
But a source close to the Japan Coast Guard said the reality is different. The source said Chinese fishing boats tend to move upon the instructions of a monitoring ship.
“With a single command, fishing boats could head southward (to the Senkakus) all at once,” the source said.
The Japan Coast Guard has assembled 50 patrol boats around the Senkaku Islands in case Chinese government ships or fishing boats enter Japanese territorial waters. Many of the vessels have been sent by regional coast guard headquarters across the country.
As of Sept. 19, Japan Coast Guard confirmed about 700 Chinese fishing boats north of the Senkaku Islands, but all were at least 100 km away and many were actively fishing.
A large number of Chinese fishing boats operate in the area every year.
At a news conference on Sept. 19, Akira Gunji, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, said Chinese fishing boats are not expected to approach the Senkakus in droves.
He said Chinese fishing boats catch mackerel, horse mackerel or black scraper, but there are few of them around the Senkakus at this time of the year.
(This article was compiled from reports by Kenji Minemura in Beijing, Seiko Sadakuni and Yoshihito Kawami.)
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