Tensions are running high in Asia these days over territorial issues which are starting to affect politics and economics in the region. The Japanese government recently sent inspectors to survey the Senkaku Islands, done in preparation for the government to buy them from their current private owners so they can be controlled by Japan directly. The Senkakus are uninhabited islands that were claimed by Japan as terra nullius in 1895 and developed in the first half of the century (Japan had a fish processing factory there from 1900-1940), and were administered by the U.S. along with Okinawa after the war then formally returned to Japan in 1972. The islands have been claimed by China and Taiwan since 1970, after it was discovered that the region held oil and natural gas reserves, and every couple years China is wracked by demonstrations resulting in rocks being thrown through the windows of Japanese businesses. Then there’s Dokdo / Takeshima, two ugly islands claimed by both Japan and South Korea which were unilaterally occupied by South Korea in 1952 (in violation, it must be said, of U.S. postwar policy and the Treaty of San Francisco). The average Japanese hadn’t spared two seconds to think about the islands before, using the Japanese mantra shikata ga nai (“it can’t be helped”), but when President Lee visited the islands and made disparaging comments about Japan’s Emperor, people here got extremely angry, no doubt switching from kimchee imported from Korea to domestic brands. The real problem is that there are two disputes. I believe Japan could reach an agreement with South Korea, but this would weaken it’s position in the more important Senkaku issue…hence nothing can move forward.
A crisis over useless islands in the Pacific.