Recently, a dispute between China and Japan sparked fierce protests from both sides that ended with arrests, tear gas and torched cars—all because of an uninhabited island chain. In fact, the islands are little more than large rocks, home to nothing of note save for a single lighthouse.
Whether you call them the Diaoyu or Senkaku islands, both countries’ claims to the island aren’t simply a matter of national pride, although public opinion on both sides has shown an unwillingness to concede the issue, according to the New York Times. The territory provides access to fishing and shipping, and may hold oil reserves.
Looking at a map, geography can seem static and borders well-defined. In reality, the Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute reflects that borders are still flexible and there isn’t a complete consensus on all of the lines drawn between nations.
The temperature on the Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute is rising, but conflict over these other island chains has been boiling over for some time:
1. Kuril Islands — above
Japan is not only embroiled in a dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands. It’s also part of an ongoing clash with Russia over the Kuril Islands.
The Kuril Islands, a chain of four land masses in the northern Pacific between Russia and Japan, were last in the news in 2010, when then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev visited them to reinforce his country’s claim.
Russia took control of the islands in the aftermath of World War II. In 1951, Japan signed a treaty renouncing “all right, title and claim to the Kuril Islands,” as explained by BBC News. But since Japan never recognized the four disputed islands as part of the Kuril chain and Russia was not a signatory on the treaty, the issue remained unresolved.
Like the Senkaku Islands, the Kuril chain has natural wealth, including oil and gas resources as well as abundant fishing grounds. The islands are also something of a tourist draw.
Photo Credit: Dr. Igor Smolyar, NOAA/NODC (http://www.photolib.noaa.gov) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons