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Opportunities in Understanding China's Approach to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands

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In 2010, two Japanese coast guard vessels and a Chinese fishing boat collided in the disputed waters near the SenkakuDiaoyu Islands, sparking increasingly confrontational behavior by both China and Japan. The pattern of escalation continued in 2012 when Japan nationalized several of the disputed islands by purchasing them from the private owner. China promptly responded by sending warships to the area in a show of force. Although escalation to the point of war is unlikely, these incidents underscore the destabilizing regional effects of the disputed islands and associated maritime boundaries. China s territorial claims are rooted in historical context, nationalism, national security, and economic interests. By understanding China s perspectives, motives, and approaches to resolving this dispute, the United States can anticipate the current pattern of escalation, forecast future Chinese behavior, and identify opportunities for conflict management and eventual deescalation to improve strategic stability in the region. Named the Senkaku Islands by Japan and the Diaoyu Islands by China, the group of eight small uninhabited islands in the southern end of the Ryukyu Island chain comprise a mere 7 square kilometers of land. In the context of increasingly contested sovereignty in the East China Sea, these seemingly unimportant islands have a far greater strategic significance than size and location would otherwise warrant. The Sino-Japanese friction over maritime resources has created a dangerous military competition in which both countries are applying a zerosum- gain approach based on sovereignty. As the current pattern of escalation continues, the risk of destabilizing the region also increases.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Geography

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