Apart from the rhetoric from various levels of the Chinese government, these near-daily deployments of Chinese ships show that Beijing is not yet considering a reduction in its presence, which might be interpreted as backing down on its claims. Tokyo considers these intrusions near its waters extremely provocative, and believes that the Chinese are attempting to redefine the perception of "administrative control" over the islands that underlies the U.S. security commitment to Japan. In essence, the Japanese government believes Beijing is attempting to show de facto or at least equivalent control over the islands (by claiming to "expel" Japanese ships from the waters around the Senkakus) so as to undercut the U.S. understanding that any territory administratively controlled by Japan falls under Article 5 of the security treaty.
It seems that Xi supports the current policy of challenging Japan's claim, or at a minimum has not yet proposed an alternative approach that satisfies his co-leaders. Even a diplomatic outreach by Japan's new premier , were it possible, might not result in any deal that Xi could bring back to China's top leadership body, the Standing Committee, particularly if the leadership is confident that China is slowly wearing down Japan's defenses or is prompting a domestic political backlash against Japan's government. This may well be a misreading of Japan's will and strategy, but it at least means the current policy of continually testing Japan will continue.
What China's ultimate policy over the Senkakus and Japan will be may thus be shaped significantly by Xi's relationship with the military. Unlike President Hu Jintao, who for the first two years of his reign had to contend with Jiang Zemin as chairman of the Central Military Commission, the body that manages the People's Liberation Army (PLA), Xi already runs both the party and the military. Also , Xi has some experience with the PLA; he served as the personal secretary to a former defense minister in the early 1980s and held military positions in his provincial assignments in Nanjing, Fujian, and Fuzhou. These experiences may help decrease friction between Xi and the PLA, as should the promotion of senior military officials known to be close to Xi.
Given the PLA's hard-line stance toward Japan, and the expansion of its naval and air activities in the East China Sea, where the Senkakus are located, it seems unlikely that Xi will challenge the military leadership and dramatically change China's security presence near the islands. Rather, he can be expected to support the PLA and expand the scope of its missions in waters that China claims, including the East China Sea, as long as it doesn't appear to be a reckless move that either causes outright conflict or brings in the United States in a far more active manner. Success in keeping the pressure on Japan and appearing in lockstep with the PLA could also protect Xi from any potential rivals who might seek to undermine him through cultivating their own support from the military.
All this augurs poorly for a tamping down of tensions with Japan, even if China's policy of maritime incursions into the Senkakus so far has not resulted in any evidence that Tokyo will abandon its claims.
Unfortunately, there are few positive counterbalances in Sino-Japanese relations to offset the tensions over the Senkakus. Trade between the two nations has fallen due to anti-Japanese protests in China; Japan's consideration of joining the TPP has further alienated China, which feels left out of the negotiations; and there are few joint diplomatic initiatives between the two countries, such as the six-party-talks over North Korea or anything relating to the East Asian Summit, an annual forum attended by leaders of nearly 20 countries. Beijing also continues to try and isolate Japan regionally, as it does to Taiwan, thereby minimizing the only other potential power center in East Asia. Moreover, while Japan will be an important part of China's economic picture for the rest of this decade, Chinese leaders have already calculated that Japan will suffer more from an economic downturn and poor relations than will China, perhaps increasing their willingness to push Japan ever harder on the Senkakus.
There also is not much Japan can do to bolster its position abroad. Any weakness in defending the islands will only embolden China, but Tokyo is also leery of being thrust into the position of "counterbalance" to China, as a senior Philippines officials suggested in early December. Not only does such an idea ignore over a decade of decline in Japan's defense budget, Tokyo will not further endanger trade with Beijing by appearing to become the ringleader of Asian opposition to China. Moreover, these other nations are interested primarily in South China Sea issues, and not Japan's problems further north. This leaves Tokyo with no option other than to rely even more heavily on U.S. support and to ensure that the U.S.-Japan alliance remains the bedrock of security assurance.
This leaves much of the momentum in Sino-Japanese relations in Chinese hands. If there is any respite, it might come from Xi's likely focus on domestic affairs in the first years of his rule. As for Xi, he must be seen as a strong leader after the Bo Xilai debacle this past summer and rumors of continuing splits among the party's top leadership. While he will try to repair Beijing's "smile diplomacy" and not make China an object of fear among its neighbors, what better way to show strength at home and abroad than to adopt the time-honored tactic of standing up to the Japanese?