Small and uninhabited islands are often a source of dispute among countries particularly in the Asian region. China and Japan, for example, are in conflict over the Senkaku and Diayou Islands situated in the East China Sea. Both are claiming ownership of the islands for years now and no settlement is yet in sight.
Involved in this Japan-China row are eight uninhabited islands with a total area of seven square kilometers. Specifically, they are located north-east of Taiwan, east of China and south-west of Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost prefecture. Currently, these islands are under Japan’s control.
There are several factors that make this territory an asset. They have rich natural resources notably fishing grounds, are located close to potential oil and gas reserves and near important shipping zones.
Japan put up a sovereignty marker in the islands in 1895 after determining, through a 10-year survey, that they were uninhabited. China and Taiwan came into the picture later on in the 1970s when the issue of oil resources in the area came about.
China for its part claims the islands have been their important fishing grounds managed by Taiwan adding that the area has been within their territory since the ancient period. It added that when Taiwan was returned to them in the Treaty of San Francisco, the islands should have been included.
Taiwan was surrendered to Japan in 1895 in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. This was after the Sino-Japanese war. Currently, Taiwan is now also claiming the islands.
China has since been sending government ships in the areas surrounding the islands in an effort to make a political stand.
In November 2013, the Chinese air-force set up a new airspace defense zone over the small islands. Its declaration of such defense zone is seen to affect aircraft from countries around the world flying over the area on a regular basis.
In line with this row, the U.S. has pledged its support to Japan, its ally since 1960. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has assured Japan that the defense pact they signed earlier covers the eight islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diayou in China. The U.S. also maintains military bases in Japan as part of their agreement.
Although it does not take a stand on the islands’ sovereignty, the U.S. acknowledges that Japan has administrative control over the islands and that it is ready to defend its ally in the event of an armed conflict.
Last year, the U.S. flew two B-52 bombers over the islands even admist a demand that airplanes flying over the area are required to inform Chinese authorities.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military through Pentagon continues to conduct operations in the region flying more aircraft over the defense zone.
Japan Airlines and ANA Holdings have also ignored China’s declaration while flying over the zone. These two companies said they have not been providing flight plans and other information to China in compliance to a request from the Japanese government. They added they have not experienced any threats so far by not following the demand of Chinese authorities.
Japanese and Chinese relations have become increasingly tense in the region which has brought with it a rise in Japanese nationalism and websites showing alternate versions on historical events such as the Nanking Massacre and other pre-war events, some of which have even been flatly denied by Japanese politicians.