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International relations

China's fishing suspension near disputed islands in East China Sea ends

Concern rises that Beijing may send inordinate number of vessels

A Chinese fishing vessel seen next to Filipino fishing boats at the disputed Scarborough Shoal in 2017.    © Reuters

BEIJING (Kyodo) -- A Chinese-set suspension of fishing in the East China Sea ended Sunday, sparking concern that Beijing may send an inordinate number of government and fishing vessels into or near the disputed Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands.

Some foreign affairs experts, however, said tensions are unlikely to intensify in the waters this year, given that Chinese local authorities have instructed fishermen not to sail within 30 nautical miles, or 56 kilometers, of the uninhabited islets.

As the world's second-biggest economy has been lackluster against the backdrop of the new coronavirus outbreak and severe strains with the United States, China has apparently been willing to bolster cooperation with Japan, they said.

The Senkakus, called Diaoyu in China, have long been at the center of conflict between the two Asian countries, as Beijing has ratcheted up pressure on Tokyo by constantly sending its vessels into or near the Japanese territorial waters to challenge the status quo.

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 asked Beijing to implement steps to prevent Chinese fishing boats from entering the Japanese territorial waters through a diplomatic channel, sources close to bilateral relations said.

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