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What solution to China-Japan maritime dispute?

Neither Beijing nor Tokyo has a clear claim to the disputed islands in the East China Sea

Published on May 9, 2014 4:28 PM

US President Barack Obama recently declared that a 1960 defence treaty obligates his country to defend Japan if disputed islands in the East China Sea are attacked.

Called Diaoyu in Chinese or Senkaku in Japanese, the islands are "under Japan's administration", Mr Obama noted. It is their ownership that China, the potential attacker, disputes. Making up a total of under 7 sq km in area, the five uninhabited islets and three barren rocks lie slightly on Japan's side of the median in the East China Sea, about 120 nautical miles east of Fuzhou, China, 90 nautical miles north-east of Taiwan and 90 nautical miles from the Japanese Ryukyu islands.

Their value lies below, in "the most prolific oil and gas reservoirs in the world, possibly comparing favourably with the Persian Gulf area", according to a 1968 US Naval Oceanographic Office study. This study sparked the dispute, as whoever owns the islands owns the oil and gas.

Japan has been administering the islands since 1972, maintaining a lighthouse and patrolling the waters. China insists that Japan occupies the islands illegally.

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