According to the Kyodo wire service, the Chinese authorities earlier this month stopped the China Diaoyutai Islands Defense Association (中国民間保釣連合会), a private organization of activists, from sailing a protest boat from Dalian to the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyutai Qundao to the non-Chinese world). According to the report, one of the activists was a “Chinese (華人)” living in Canada.
At this point, you might be thinking, there’s something funny about this story. First, Kyodo wires on China or North Korea can be a little dodgy, so ideally, you want a second source for the story. Second, Dalian is located on the Liaodong Peninsula, which is about as far away from the Senkakus as you can get in China and still have access to the sea. And that, if you look at a map, is a long, long way.
I can’t find a second source for this story, but there was an earlier, related Kyodo wire that cited a Hong Kong-headquartered Ming Pao Daily News report claiming that on January 10 Chinese authorities stopped that same China Diaoyutai Islands Defense Association from holding a conference in Changsha, the Hunan Provincial capital located hundreds of miles inland on a tributary of the Yangtze River. It seems to me that the Association is deliberately choosing locations where the authorities, not nearly as well coordinated across the vast Chinese expanse as Beijing would like, are least likely to notice.
From these two reports, as well as the Beijing silence (correct me if I’m wrong here; I’m writing from memory) on Hong Kong and Taiwanese activists attempting to land on the Senkakus, a picture emerges: It’s perfectly fine with the Chinese authorities to have people outside its jurisdiction forcibly dispute Japanese sovereignty over the islands; it’s another thing to have its own people do any freelancing, particularly with the Japanese Coast Guard now maintaining permanent vigil in the adjacent waters.
It’s the status quo Chinese leaders want to maintain; that must also be the explanation for the lack of further movement on “joint” development of the gas fields of the East China Sea.
ADD: Here’s another April 23 (22?) Kyodo story about a May 2 landing attempt. The Association will sail from Hong Kong, where the boat is registered. The crew will consist of five or six Hong Kong Chinese and four or five “Chinese (華人)” living in Canada. According to the Association, a Taiwanese organization with which it is coordinating the protest may be prevented by the Taiwanese authorities from taking similar action*.
* I note that the current Taiwanese regime is very much pro-China and that the current Taiwanese President was something of a hardliner on the Senkaku issue as a legal scholar.