The Island Dispute

The Island Dispute

by Trevor LaVine, Staff Writer

A remote, uninhabited archipelago in the South China Sea known as the Senkaku islands was recently claimed by three different countries: Japan, China, and Taiwan. In 1895, Japan formally claimed the islands as part of its Okinawa Prefecture (a prefecture is the Japanese equivalent of a state). In 1951, Japan lost control of the islands as a result of WWII, but later regained them in 1971.When it was discovered that the islands might contain oil reserves, China and Taiwan also laid claim to the territory. Their claims are that the islands were used as ancient fishing grounds and are historically theirs.

While it’s worth noting that neither side offered to share or split the five islands (or at least the alleged oil reserves), Japan had purchased the islands last month from a private owner, and the country has claimed that the islands are rightfully theirs. The Japanese people would have great difficulty extracting the oil though, and most Japanese companies have shown little interest in undertaking that project. The Chinese would therefore have more use for the islands, but the island has long since changed hands and simply because they owned the territory a very long time ago does not give them rights to it.

The Chinese started to protest Japan’s “occupation,” forcing Japanese businesses to close and assaulting the embassy. In the waters around Senkaku, however, it is Taiwan that is the prime agitator. The Taiwanese coast guard has engaged the Japanese fleet in a water-cannon duel, and it frequently exchanges radio arguments with the Japanese nation.

This is not exclusively an Asian issue, though. Due to the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the USA and Japan, if China were to attempt to take the islands by force, the United States would be obligated to intervene on Japan’s behalf.

If China and Japan are unable to come to a compromise, this very well could escalate into an armed conflict. One that Washington will have to take sides in.