As The Japanese government’s moved to purchase the Diaoyu Islands (also known as Senkaku Islands) three days ago the government of the People’s Republic of China reacted energetically. Initially, Chinese media reporters influenced mediatic understanding of the situation by emphasizing the nationalization of the islands by Japan (ringing the history bells to Chinese people on how Japan had previously nationalized Manchuria and renamed it as the puppet state of Manchukuo during the WW2 period). And later, by making strong diplomatic statements on how Chinese sovereignty and control of the islands had been violated by the Japanese purchase.
The purchase of the islands is of relevance regionally and globally. Why China, Japan, and S. Korea aren’t backing down on this islands should be understood by taking a look at the map and see how the position of the islands is central for the passage of containers and oil that comes all the way from Middle East via the Strait of Malacca. A route that is of priority importance for China and which I explored in the essay “The Strait of Malacca as one of the most important geopolitical regions for the People’s Republic of China” which ca be read in pdf at Academia.edu for free.
Locally, the geography of the islands is meaningless. The island group consists of five uninhabited islets and three barren rocks which zooming out are located approximately 120 nautical miles northeast of Taiwan, 200 nautical miles east of the Chinese mainland and 200 nautical miles southwest of the Japanese island of Okinawa. And which zooming out are in the center of the route of all the containers that go to the ports of East and North East China, of which the most important is Shangai.
The Japanese central government formally annexed the islets on 14 January 1895. And after WW2 they were occupied by the United States. The islets were later returned to Japan during the 70s and it was only until the last two decades that they became of relevance as the People’s Republic of China started to project is New Economic and Global Plans for economic sustainable expansion. Plans in which they have invested billions of dollars in military expansion, naval trade/military shipbuilding, regional economic investment via state-owned companies and diplomatic sovereignty claims all over the region.
The islands are officially Japanese territory, but as Chinese official statements continue being broadcasted they claim a violation of sovereignty that could takes decades to be resolved via a diplomatic arbitrage and/or scalate to more direct military statements and naval occupations of the beaches of the islets.
Whoever said that trade is the most (or only) pacific way of organizing society should reconsider this evaluations when thinking about how global trade works and on how diplomatic and economic control of trade routes is sometimes more powerful and dangerous than a bunch of battleships.