East Asian Island and Maritime Disputes in a World of Globalization

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Abstract

East Asia is home to many of the world’s most vexing territorial disputes.1 The territories in dispute need not cover the entire soil of a particular state, as in the cases of the two Chinas and the two Koreas, in order to seriously strain interstate relationships. Even small, barely habitable islands and rocks in semi-enclosed waters like the East Sea/Sea of Japan, the East and the South China Sea can be the most persistent and explosive bone of contention. The danger of conflict escalation looms particularly large during a global shortage of energy and marine resources. All the energy-hungry littoral states in the region eye the high potential of oil and gas deposits in the vicinity of the disputed islands. They also rely on contested offshore areas to provide a large portion of their marine diets. Yet material concerns are hardly the sole drivers of the island disputes in East Asia. Many of the disputed areas raise questions of national identity and pride, thereby feeding territorial nationalism following the end of ideology in contemporary East Asia.