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China Makes Strong Claim for Disputed Islands
November 24, 2013

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China and Japan have exchanged warnings both verbal and military in an escalating dispute over ownership of a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

The conflict, which is more than a year old in its latest incarnation, centers on which country owns both the land and the waters around a group of islands. The antagonists cannot agree on what to call the islands. To Japan, they are the Senkaku; to China, they are the Diaoyu. The tiny islands, of which eight have prominence, are uninhabited but are rich in minerals and gas and are surrounded by waters rich in fishing opportunities. Both countries, and Taiwan, claim ownership of the islands, pressing claims dating back hundreds or thousands of years. (The latest row began when private Japanese citizens sold the largest of the islands to the Japanese Government.)

The latest series of events began with an announcement from China that that country was setting up a protection zone to guard against air threats. The protection zone included the disputed islands. Chinese fighter jets later flew a patrol mission over the islands and issued new aircraft identification rules, the breaking of which, the Chinese government said, would result in military reaction. In response, Japan rejected China's protection zone and then scrambled its own group of fighter jets for a look around the area. Both countries then traded statements of verbal escalation.

The dispute goes back a great many years. Japan has the most recent claim, having owned and administered the islands during and after World War II.

The dispute is one part of an ongoing diplomatic and economic row between the two countries. Earlier protests against Japanese actions resulted in a sharp downturn in Japanese sales in China. Since then, ships belonging to the three countries have routinely traded angry messages, air patrols of one another's sea forces, and even blasts from ship-borne water cannons.

If the situation escalates into a live firefight, the United States Military might have something to say. The U.S. has a large military presence on nearby Okinawa and is bound by a security treaty with Japan to intervene if the latter's territory is threatened. Vice-president Joe Biden is due to visit the area in early December.











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