Island Mania

Why do islands capture imaginations and fire competitive passions at this particular moment in Asian history? From the Spratlys and Paracels to the south to the Senkakus/Diaoyutais near the midpoint of the first island chain to the Dokdo/Takeshima islets to the north, Asian officials are waging wars of words over flyspecks on the map.

Island Mania in the Asia-Pacific
By James R. Holmes, The Diplomat

Islands, islands, and more islands. Why do islands capture imaginations and fire competitive passions at this particular moment in Asian history? From the Spratlys and Paracels to the south to the Senkakus/Diaoyutais near the midpoint of the first island chain to the Dokdo/Takeshima islets to the north, Asian officials are waging wars of words over flyspecks on the map. Even the Russians have gotten into the act, needling Japan in the Kuriles. None of these maritime territorial quarrels are new, yet they have come to dominate headlines at the same time. Why?

We all know the objective reasons why governments prize islands in this age of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. States that exercise sovereignty over habitable islands are entitled to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, an offshore belt of sea along with the seabed underneath. Fish can be caught in the water; sea floors are supposedly ready to disgorge untold natural riches. Some islands hold strategic merit as well. If a nation’s military forces are strong enough to defend and resupply them in wartime, they can make valuable forward outposts—advancing a nation’s strategic frontiers in useful directions on the map.

But these things have long been true. Again, why the resurgence of island disputes along the Asian seaboard now? For one thing, coastal states have entangled their island claims with larger questions of sovereignty and national identity. And challenges to sovereignty……[access full article]

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