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Rocking Out in the China Seas

The ongoing disputes over islands in the China Seas have taken a turn toward the absurd. In an effort to bolster its claims of sovereignty, Japan has begun giving Japanese names to small specks of rock that it designates as “islands.” It plans to name several hundred of these over the next year. The WSJ has the story:

“When you go swimming in the ocean, you’ll see some big rocks on the beach off to the side. You can assume some of those are islands,” says [coast guard hydrographer Aknori] Saito. Asked the size of the smallest island he has measured, he holds out his arms to form a circle, like hugging a tree. “As long as the top stays above the water when the tide goes up, it’s an island.”

The process isn’t aimed at expanding Japan’s internationally recognized territory, officials say. It doesn’t add new islands to maps, they say; it just gives names to existing dots in the immediate vicinity of larger, named islands. The goal of the naming exercise, they say, is building up public awareness of what is already under its control.

Japan isn’t the only one on a naming spree. China, naturally, is countering with its own names for Japan’s discoveries as soon as they are catalogued. Never one to be left out, Russia has joined in the name game in the Pacific as well, causing no end to the confusion for cartographers.

The competition won’t abate anytime soon. The island disputes are intractable problems, and there are potentially large energy resources at stake. With nationalistic provocateurs on the rise across Asia, moderation might be too much to hope for.

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