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Daggers Drawn as Asia’s Maritime Disputes Heat up

Here’s an update on what’s been happening in the seas around East Asia over the past few days:

On Tuesday, the Japanese government announced the purchase of the Senkaku Islands from the previous owners, a private Japanese family.

Immediately afterwards, China sent “an unusually large” group of maritime patrol ships—”the largest such mission ever”—to the disputed waters.

The fleet arrived Friday morning, Asia time. After patrolling the area for a few hours the fleet departed, and one ship broadcast a radio message to the listening Japanese coast guard: “Uotsuri Island [the largest island in the area] is Chinese territory. Our ship is conducting official duties. . . . Please leave these waters immediately.”

Tokyo, “irked”, promised to ensure security around the islands.

Meanwhile, President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines signed an executive order to rename the “South China Sea” the “West Philippine Sea.” However, the Philippine government stressed, this new name applies only to the area within the Philippine “Exclusive Economic Zone”—the sea territory within 200 miles of the coast. This zone contains several island groups claimed by China.

China responded that this move “would only humiliate the Philippine government and turn it into a laughing stock in the international community.”

So there you have it: posturing, patrolling, protesting, intimidating, renaming—the South China Sea, if that’s what we’re still calling it, continues to simmer as surrounding nations, unable or uninterested in backing down from very public confrontational stances, stare each other down with daggers drawn.

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