The Chinese government is attempting to circumvent Japanese authority over some disputed islands by sending an increasing number of supposedly routine maritime law enforcement patrols into the region.

China sent four maritime police ships this week into a Japanese-controlled tract of sea that’s claimed by both countries. Beijing’s State Oceanic Administration described that mission, the second in less than a week, as “cruising in the seas around our Diaoyu Islands.” The sea is the East China Sea and Diaoyu a chain of eight uninhabited islets that Japan calls the Senkakus. Japan functionally controls the islets and the waters around it.

But China says it’s all theirs, and this year it has made these cruises a standing routine aimed at eroding Japanese control. It may already have taken a step toward that goal, per some views.

“By regular patrol of the surrounding area, China believes it has successfully established a new status quo,” says Yun Sun, East Asia Program senior associate at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington. Stopping access to the islands would help China establish “evidence of exercise of sovereignty,” she adds.

Bottom line: The Chinese are using their increased military and economic prowess to reassert control over regions Beijing views as historically belonging to China. This is the same thing that is happening in the South China Sea.

Beijing will continue pressing and pressuring in this manner until two things happen: Countries give in, or countries push back. Obviously the Chinese government believes it can outmaneuver the Japanese, otherwise Beijing would not be risking a confrontation.

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