150211-N-ZZ999-190, cc Flickr Naval Surface Warriors, modified, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/In recent years, relations between China and Japan have come under increasing strain amidst the escalation of a decades-old territorial dispute over eight uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. The islands of this contentious archipelago are known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, and the Diaoyu Islands in China. The islands are of high strategic importance due to their proximity to vital shipping lanes, rich fishing grounds, and extensive oil and gas resources. Talks between the two sides have failed to make any meaningful progress, and the risk of an unintended escalation remains high given China’s continued assertiveness, which has led to Japan adopting an increasingly firm position of its own.

The origins of the dispute can be traced back to 1895, when Japan first claimed sovereignty over the islands and incorporated them into Japanese territory. At the end of the Second World War, a defeated Japan renounced claims to a number of territories including the Senkaku Islands, which then came under US control before being handed back to Japan in 1971. Japan argues that its sovereignty dates back to 19th century maritime surveys which mapped the Islands and asserted Japanese ownership. Tokyo contends that China did not dispute this interpretation until the 1970s, when vast oil reserves were discovered in the area.

China however argues that the islands have been part of its territory since ancient times, when the surrounding waters were used as fishing grounds by Chinese vessels, administered by the then-Chinese province of Taiwan. Based on similar historical arguments, modern-day Taiwan also lays claim to the disputed land features.

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