In recent months, territory disputes have erupted between a slew of nations over small islands in the South China Sea, East China Sea, and Sea of Japan. Some of these islands, such as the Spratly and Paracel Islands, are uninhabited, but control over them could give the owner access to huge deposits of oil and gas.
The South China Sea – one of the world’s major shipping lanes – is also regarded as one of the major sources of future mineral wealth. Though estimates vary, Bloomberg reported the region may have as much oil as Saudi Arabia.
China claims sovereignty over almost all of the massive sea, which covers an area of about 3.5 million square kilometres. This has raised objections from countries including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.
Further north, a number of disputes rage over small islands in the Sea of Japan and East China Sea. China and Japan both claim the Senkaku Islands (known as Diaoyu Islands in Chinese), while South Korea and Japan squabble over the Liancourt Rocks.
The competing disputes over these islands are nothing new – China’s territorial claims go back to centuries – but the recent rise in tensions threaten regional stability and with potential global consequences.