Senkaku or Diaoyu islands?
- China-Japan ties have been strained by territorial row over a group of islands, known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and the Diaoyu islands in China.
- These are eight uninhabited islands and rocks in the East China Sea occupying an area of about 7 sq km.
- They lie north-east of Taiwan, east of the Chinese mainland and south-west of Japan's Okinawa prefecture.
Significance of the disputed islands
The islands are significant due to their proximity to key shipping lanes, have rich fishing grounds and are located near potential oil and gas reserves.They are also in a strategically important position, amid rising competition between US and China for military primacy in Asia-Pacific region.
What is Japan's claim?
- Japan claims it surveyed the islands for 10 years in 19th Century and determined that they were uninhabited.
- In 1895, Japan erected a sovereignty marker and incorporated the islands into its territory.
- Though Japan renounced the islands in 1951 under Treaty of San Francisco, they were returned to Japan in 1971 under Okinawa reversion deal.
- Further, China hadn't disputed Japanese sovereignty until the 1970s.
China and Taiwan claim them too
China claims that the islands have been part of its territory since ancient times, serving as important fishing grounds administered by the province of Taiwan. It is only since the 1970s, when the issue of oil resources in the area emerged, that Chinese and Taiwanese authorities began pressing their claims.
Major protests in 2012
- In 2012, major protests erupted after reports that Japanese government was considering purchasing the islands from their private Japanese owner.
- The formal purchase of the islands by the Japanese government angered China, triggering public and diplomatic protests.
- Since then, Chinese government ships have regularly sailed in and out of what Japan says are its territorial waters around the islands.
China creates new air-defence identification zone
In Nov 2013, China announced an East China Sea "air defence identification zone" which covers the Senkakus. This meant that it would require any aircraft in the zone, which covers the islands, to comply with rules laid down by Beijing.
Role of US in the situation
- The US and Japan forged a security alliance in the wake of World War II and formalised it in 1960.
- Under the deal, the US is given military bases in Japan in return for its promise to defend Japan in the event of an attack.
- This means if conflict were to erupt between China and Japan, Japan would expect US military back-up.
Japan to deploy troops near disputed islands
- Japan is planning to deploy about 500 ground troops on a southern island to bolster defence in the region including nearby disputed East China Sea islands.
- Japan's deputy Defense Minister met with the Mayor of the Ishigaki island to explain a plan to deploy ground troops on the island beginning in 2019.
- Ishigaki has jurisdiction over the disputed Senkaku islands, which China also claims.