Monday marked the 60th consecutive day that China Coast Guard vessels have operated within 24 nautical miles (nm) of the Senkaku Islands. This is the longest stretch of continuous Chinese activity in those waters since Japan started tracking it. For some, this record-setting run may seem out of the ordinary, but for longtime observers of this problem area, the increasingly constant presence of Chinese government vessels simply reflects the country's ambition to establish a "new normal" in the East China Sea.
The recent Chinese activity around the Senkaku Islands represents the continuation of a plan it has held for the better part of a decade: to establish a situation of de facto co-administration of the Senkakus as a stepping stone to vying for sole administration at some point in the future. With this plan, China has no need to exercise military power in order to achieve its ultimate goal of gaining control of the islands it calls Diaoyu — it merely needs to create a situation where the international community gets so used to Chinese presence that it is no longer seen as a challenge to the status quo.
But why is China targeting the Senkakus in the first place? The Senkaku Islands are a small group of uninhabited land features along Japan's southwest island chain and are the focus of a territorial dispute between three countries: Japan, China and Taiwan. The Senkakus have been under Japanese administration since the U.S. reversion of the Ryukyu Islands in 1972, but since then, China and Taiwan have both laid sovereignty claims to those islets.