The Obama Administration has announced that it is backing Japan’s claims on the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu island chain in the East China Sea, raising tensions in the standoff between China and Japan.
US warplanes and Japanese civilian planes have both violated the “airspace defense” zone that China has set up in the area. China has warned it serves a right to take action against future violations.
Ownership of the unpopulated islands is complicated. They were historically claimed as part of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which had ties with the Ming Dynasty of China, which is where Chinese claims of it being theirs originates. Japan occupied the islands in the late 19th century and had some industrial interests in the island through World War 2, when it was occupied by the United States.
The US “returned” the islands to Japan in 1972, but they have sat unusued and uninhabited since. The discovery of significant offshore oil reserves has made their ownership a matter of contention for both Japan and China, as well as Taiwan. China’s declaration of territory aims to settle the matter, but Japan is continuing to dispute that, and the US seems to be backing them.
China has condemned the US actions as “irresponsible,” and there are fears of clashes originating from the dispute. Such a clash clearly benefits no one, however, and while a lot of bluster is to be expected on all sides, escalation would take a lot of additional blundering.
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