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Why are Chinese vessels sailing off the Diaoyus? According to Beijing’s envoy, they’re after ‘big fish’

China’s envoy to Japan said on Wednesday that recent large-scale sailings of Chinese fishing and government vessels around disputed islands in the East China Sea were due to a “big catch of fish” seen in the area, a top Japanese ruling party official told reporters.

The explanation given by the envoy came as Chinese government vessels, as many as 15 at one point, entered waters near the Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japanese.

Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said he was told by Cheng Yonghua that “fish were markedly concentrated” in the area around the islets.

Tokyo warns Beijing over Chinese maritime push near Diaoyu Islands

Nikai, who is considered to be pro-China with personal ties with the country, told Cheng he was “very worried” about the situation, while the envoy responded that Beijing would address the situation “sincerely.” The two agreed on a plan to seek an amicable solution through dialogue, Nikai added.

Cheng visited Nikai at the party’s headquarters in Tokyo to congratulate him after he last week assumed the post following a reshuffle of positions.

On Wednesday, Japan coastguard officials said 10 Chinese government vessels were spotted in the contiguous zone just beyond Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkakus in the morning, while over 200 Chinese fishing vessels were seen operating near the ships.

Early the same day, a Chinese fishing boat drew up alongside a Chinese government vessel in waters in the exclusive economic zone, the coast guard said.

The coastguard added that crew from the fishing boat were then seen boarding the Chinese government vessel.

China makes show of force on two disputed sea fronts

In the wake of the incident, the coast guard issued a warning to the government vessel, saying if it was exercising jurisdiction over the fishing boat in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, it “cannot be accepted”.

Although Chinese fishing vessels are allowed to operate in the contiguous zone, it is unusual that they have sailed there in the hundreds while being accompanied by a group of government ships.

On Tuesday in Washington, US State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said the United States was “closely monitoring the situation” and was “in close communication with the Japanese government regarding their concerns”.

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