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Japan, China, Taiwan All Fighting Over Uninhabited Rock
If you have never heard of the Senkaku Islands that's okay. Nobody lives there, so it's not as if you're going to offend anybody. In fact, the jury remains out on whether that's even the name of this uninhabited island group located between Taiwan and the Japanese island of Okinawa.
China refers to the islands as the Diaoyu Islands, whereas neighboring Taiwan refers to them as the Tiaoyutai Islands. Japan, meanwhile, is adamant they be called the Senkaku Islands, while English-language mariners have simply begun calling them the Pinnacle Islands, most likely because we simply have a knack for butchering Asian words.
The issue, however, is not about the name; it's about who actually owns these islands. China claims that they have been part of Chinese sovereign territory since the 16th century, which is odd seeing as Japan officially laid claim to them in 1895.
An enterprising Japanese entrepreneur attempted to start a fish operation on the island, failed, and then subsequently sold four of the islands to the Kurihara family of Japan. With their uninhabited rocks now in hand, the islands were promptly taken over by American forces in WWII along with most of the other islands in the area until eventually being handed back in 1972.
This is where things really get weird. Japan got the islands back from the US, and from 2002-2012 the Japanese government paid the Kurihara family ¥25 million per year ($321,500) to rent the uninhabited rocks in the middle of nowhere. Finally, this past month, the government decided they were sick of renting and just went ahead and bought the islands for a cool ¥2 billion ($25.8 million).
Add to this the fact that China is still a little bitter towards Japan for occupying them at the outset of World War II, and the tensions really start to mount.
Oh, and did we mention that there appears to be oil located beneath the islands?
Stay tuned as the drama unfolds in the East China Sea, where three of the world's largest economies all squabble over a cluster of eight guano-covered rocks.
[Image courtesy of Tjebbe van Tijen on Flickr]