Geopolitics puts disputes on world map
But as rising powers face off against each other in a battle not just for influence but also vital resources, such disputed islets, reefs, and areas of seabed are swiftly growing in importance; and not just in Asia.
From the melting and resource-rich Arctic to the eastern Mediterranean, the South Atlantic to the East China Sea, legal wrangling, diplomatic posturing and military sabre rattling are all on the rise.
The current row between Beijing and Tokyo over five islets and three rocks seems one of the riskiest so far, putting two of Asia's most powerful states at loggerheads – although most experts believe talk of outright war is overstated for now.
Some of these lines have always been disputed, says Admiral Gary Roughead, a former U.S. Pacific Fleet commander who retired as Navy Chief of Operations last year and is now Annenberg distinguished fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institute.
But the resource issue is giving them much greater edge. You have energy reserves, you have fish stocks - which are particularly essential to the Asian diet and which I think we too often ignore - and increasingly you are going to have interest in undersea minerals and rare earths.
What began as a purely diplomatic row when Japan's government bought land on the islands from their private owner has escalated to
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