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China to Send Survey Team to Disputed Islands
March 14, 2013

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China has announced plans to send a team of people to do a survey of the islands as the heart of a three-country dispute.

The vice director of the Chinese mapping agency said that the agency would send surveyors to the islands, which the Chinese and Taiwanese call Diaoyu and which the Japanese call Senkaku, and also increase ship patrols of the area around the islands. The surveys would include mapping of caves and other land-based features not currently reflected on satellite images.

Japan's government warned that it would interpret the landing of any person on the islands as a violation of Japanese borders. Further, Japan said, any vessel crossing into the waters directly surrounding the islands would be a similar violation.

China's claim to ownership of the islands dates back centuries. Taiwan's claim is part of China's claim. Japan is the most recent owner of the islands, having seized them during World War II and then handed them over at the end of the war to the U.S., which handed them back to Japan in 1972. The eight islands in the chain are rich in minerals and natural gas, and the surrounding waters are rich in sea life. No one has lived on any of the islands since 1940.

The dispute heated up in September 2012, when the Japanese government bought control of the islands from private owners. 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.

It's not only a geographic dispute, either. It has become an economic dispute in a very real way. Mass protests in China have led to boycott of Japanese goods and a corresponding drop in Japanese exports to China.

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