Disputes over the sovereignty of various islands around Japan continue to simmer. A Chinese vessel armed with a cannon-like weapon entered Japanese waters near the Senkaku Islands on Tuesday, report Jesse Johnson and Satoshi Sugiyama. Beijing just passed a law allowing its coast guard to fire on foreign ships in waters it claims, such as the Senkakus.

A day after that law was passed, U.S. Marines in Okinawa Prefecture held a joint drill with the nuclear submarine USS Ohio, which is used in special ops, in waters near the prefecture in what is believed to have been a rehearsal for the possible defense of remote islands such as the Senkakus.

And days after that, it was also reported that Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force will be getting its first three transport ships in 2024, designed to supply ammo, fuel and food to units stationed on remote southwestern islands amid China’s military buildup in the area.

The eternal dispute for the uninhabited islands that keeps Japan awake | VISUALPOLITIK EN
The eternal dispute for the uninhabited islands that keeps Japan awake | VISUALPOLITIK EN

Meanwhile up north, Russian President Vladimir Putin has indicated he will not engage Tokyo in talks over the status of the Northern Territories, islands claimed by Japan off Hokkaido that Moscow has held since the war. In December, Russian deployed a new missile defense system on one of the islands, drawing protests from Tokyo.

As for the third major island dispute involving Japan, Tokyo is still seething over a reported South Korean defense plan based on a scenario in which Japan invades the disputed islands of Takeshima held by Seoul. Shimane Prefecture’s Takeshima Day celebrations next week can only raise tensions further.

With this month bringing Japan’s territorial disputes back to the fore, it begs the questions of why these issues keep coming up and why they are so difficult to resolve. As Michael MacArthur Bosack explains, there are four main reasons why these specks on maps cause so much grief, and four ways they could possibly — theoretically — be resolved. But don’t hold your breath.