Shishi, China – Local Chinese authorities facing the East China Sea have instructed fishermen not to approach the disputed Senkaku Islands after the summer fishing ban concluded Sunday, part of an apparent push to ease tensions with Japan.
Before the suspension in nearby waters ended, fishermen said they had been told by the city governments of Fujian and Zhejiang provinces not to sail within 30 nautical miles (55 km) of the uninhabited islets. The Senkakus are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China, which calls them the Diaoyu.
While China has ratcheted up pressure on Japan by constantly sending its vessels into or near Japan’s territorial waters to challenge the status quo, Beijing may be trying to avoid excessive friction with Tokyo, regional experts said.
The Senkakus have long been at the center of conflict between the two countries, but Beijing has been eager to prevent its relations with Tokyo from deteriorating in the midst of escalating tensions with the United States, they added.
A 40-year-old fisherman said the isles are “actually controlled by Japan,” adding “I don’t want to go there that much.”
In August 2016, a group of China Coast Guard vessels and as many as 300 fishing boats crowded around the islands. Some of them repeatedly intruded into Japanese waters despite a flurry of high-level protests from Tokyo.
Until earlier this month, Chinese vessels had also been spotted near the Senkakus for 111 consecutive days, the longest streak since Japan put the islets under state control in 2012.
Tokyo has urged Beijing to take measures to keep Chinese fishing boats from entering Japan’s territorial waters through a diplomatic channel, sources close to bilateral ties said.