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China, Korea defy Japan claims to outlying islands

Date Posted: 2006-07-08

Japan claims disputed islands both to its north, near Korea, and in the south, near Taiwan.

China doesn’t agree with Japan’s position on the rugged islands situated in the East China Sea between Okinawa and Taiwan. The Chinese claim Diaoyu, known as Senkaku in Japanese, charging the rocky islets aren’t really islands, but reefs.

On the opposite end of Japan, tensions are increasing as Koreans are vigorously opposed to claims the Dokdo islands, which Japan calls Takeshima. Japan attempted a survey mission at the islands in April, but South Korea responded by racing 20 gunboats to the scene, forcing Japanese ships to turn back. This week, Korea has announced plans of its own for a Summer survey of the islands, and Japan has warned its own patrol boats will take actions to repel “intruders”.

The Senkaku Islands issue has been boiling for years. Japan insists it claimed the islands in 1895, when it settled Taiwan. The heated debate died down while the U.S. controlled the territory from World War II until 1972, then started anew. China insists the islands, which sit astride lucrative fishing grounds, belong to Beijing. The seabeds are also believed to have large stocks of oil and gas.

The latest incident began late last month when the Dongfanghong No. 2, a 3,235 ton Chinese survey ship, entered the Japanese 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and began taking mud and water samples. Japan lodged a protest with China’s Foreign Ministry, but there was no response.

China last entered the territory two years ago, claiming the waters are theirs and that they have rights under international law to exploit resources.

Japanese Coast Guard cutters Hateruma and Ryukyu are in the Ishigaki area, near the disputed islands, as a warning to China. “They’re uninhabited, mostly,” says Takashi Nakagawa, Japan’s Coast Guard Director, “but if you let your guard down even briefly, something is liable to happen.”

Another China-Japan dispute is roiling in another area of the East China Sea, where China has already begun drilling for gas.

South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun has weighed in on the Dokdo-Takeshima standoff, insisting “This is a problem that can never be given up or negotiated, no matter at what cost or sacrifice.” Roh charged Japan with behaving like the colonial power that occupied Korea from 1910 until World War II. South Korea has its troops stationed on the craggy islands, which sit halfway between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

As with the territory near Okinawa, the Dokdo-Takeshima waters are rich in fishing grounds as well as undeveloped undersea oil and gas reservoirs. Korea Gas Company says there’s enough gas in the Dokdo-Takeshima area to fuel Korea for three decades.

Russia and Japan are also at odds over islands between the two countries. Russia has occupied four islands off Hokkaido, in northern Japan, since being seized by Soviet troops in the closing days of World War II.

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