ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Reading East Asian History Differently

The tensions between Japan and China over control of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands go back more than a century. But there was a time when the islands were a part of the Ryukyu kingdom which was independent of both countries and had trade links with both.

Islands have always been anomalous places. Unique to the earth’s geo­logical history, they are storehouses of rare life-presences. Then there are i­slands, once located along history’s fluid changing lines, that are now crucial in a present-day geopolitical and economic context. As events of the recent past have shown, these islands, like the eight uninhabited islands strewn in the East China Sea and overlooked by Japan, China and Taiwan, can set off diplomatic tensions between nations.

A sign of uneasiness the islands evoke is clear from the different names they have: the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands are referred to as Diaoyu or Tiaoyutai by China and Taiwan, respectively. Observances relating to the anniversary of the “Liutiaohu incident”, an event that led to Japan’s China invasion of 1931 were aggravated this year by news that the Japanese government was seeking to “formally” buy the privately owned islands. Japan’s claim to the i­slands dating from the 1890s have always been questioned by China and Taiwan, who cite textual evidence from a period much farther back, but present-day concerns now matter more. The islands lie along vital fishing lanes and oil reserves were indicated there in the late 1960s.

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