There are a bunch of different islands in the South China Sea that are in dispute between various countries. The above linked article enumerates some of them, and the military saber-rattling and trade sanctions that have been going on over them.
Of particular note are some uninhabited islands that China and Japan are arguing over called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, which are believed to be in oil-rich waters. Taiwan also has a claim on the islands, but this is really all about China and Japan.
Japan just bought the islands from their private owners, and China is mad over that. The islands were up
till now leased by the government from a Japanese family that owned
them since early 1970s, and Japan just controlled them.
Japan also caught a Chinese
fishing boat near the islands earlier this month, and then let it go, with warnings. Then two Japanese activists went to the islands on Tuesday and China is really mad about that because Tuesday the 18th was an important anniversary of Japanese aggression against China from WW2.
There's actually two anniversaries that are relevant.
On Sept. 18, 1931, Japanese soldiers blew up a railway in Manchuria,
blaming it on dissidents. This was a false-flag attack which gave Japan an excuse for
the invasion of north-east China. (in case you thought countries in the west was the only people doing false flags, NOPE!).
It is also the 40th anniversary of normalization of diplomatic ties between China and Japan next week, and this whole island thing is making me wonder if they'll make it a whole 40 years or not.
There were protests in China. I would hazard a guess that the protests were mostly organized by the Chinese government as a show of displeasure. Some of the protests resulted in vandalism, and among other businesses, Seven-Elevens closed for a few days (they're Japanese owned in China).
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been in both Japan and China in the last few days, trying to smooth things over, although he never actually mentioned the islands in China. But things can go unsaid and still be understood.
And now Japan Airlines just announced it was cutting flights to China, and their stock has fallen accordingly.
Now, remember that China and Japan recently agreed to trade directly with each other and not go through the dollar. But it's not all mochi and moon cakes over there, I guess. I hope this simmers down.
I have a solution: Just put a joint colony of martial arts schools on them, and people can come and duke it out for fun. World leaders could go there and resolve disputes by sparring.
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