TOKYO – Japan has been in the news lately, owing to its dispute with China over six square kilometers of barren islets in the East China Sea that Japan calls the Senkakus and China calls the Diaoyu Islands. The rival claims date back to the late nineteenth century, but the recent flare-up, which led to widespread anti-Japanese demonstrations in China, started in September when Japan’s government purchased three of the tiny islets from their private Japanese owner.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has said that he decided to purchase the islands for the Japanese central government to prevent Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara from purchasing them with municipal funds. Ishihara, who has since resigned from office to launch a new political party, is well known for nationalist provocation, and Noda feared that he would try to occupy the islands or find other ways to use them to provoke China and whip up popular support in Japan. Top Chinese officials, however, did not accept Noda’s explanation, and interpreted the purchase as proof that Japan is trying to disrupt the status quo.