Yet Another Global Hot Spot - December 2013
While much of the world's attention is still focused on regional and potentially global threats emerging from Iran and from Syria and then the rest of the Arab world, risks have suddenly increased significantly in Asia, where China has given the starting signal for a major test of power by ratcheting up the dispute over a pile of rocks in the East China Sea. These specks of land, which are not particularly valuable by themselves, gained significance because Beijing has undertaken a high-profile expansion and improvement of its navy, to help safeguard its maritime interests, a policy which Japan, as an island nation with an existential dependence on access to free sea lanes, was bound to view as a threat.
There has been some speculation that the waters surrounding the tiny territories, which are known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands in the PRC, may harbor a wealth of oil and/or gas, but for now their main worth is strategic. For decades, Tokyo and Beijing had a tacit consensus to keep their dispute quiet. Japan, which has been administering the isles since the late 19th century, had agreed not to put any new buildings on the rocks and not to let anyone land there. China, which has been laying claim to them since the 1970s, essentially made it known that they would delay any assertion of these claims and would not allow the dispute to harm trade and political relations. MORE>>