Centuries of tension between China and Japan have fueled disputes over claims to energy-rich islands.
The disputes surrounding ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands stem from long-standing tensions between China and Japan.
Uninhabited, the islands have been of little interest to major countries such as the United States, Japan and China until the 1960s when experts claimed there might be natural gas and oil reserves beneath the islands.
China claims to have sovereignty over the islands dating back to the 14th century while Japan says it discovered the islands in 1884.
In the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco, Japan officially gave the islands to the U.S. Although ownership was transferred back to Japan in 1972, China recognized neither of these transfers, claiming original ownership.
CNN reports that the ownership dispute resurfaced in the last month when 14 Chinese activists planted a Chinese flag on the island, on Aug. 17. They were arrested and deported by Japanese officials for “illegal landing” on the controversial islands.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, Sept. 4. to encourage both China and Japan to resolve their dispute through diplomatic discussions.
Chinese news agency, Xinhua, responded to the visit by warning that the U.S. is "stirring up disputes," reported China Daily, on Wednesday, Sept. 5.
Japan has offered to buy three of the five main islands for 2.05 billion yen ($26 million), according to the Associated Press. These claims have not been officially confirmed by the Japanese government but have been reported by local Japanese media.
Disputes of the South China Sea's Islands: By the Numbers
During the past eight centuries, nations in East Asia have laid claims to the South China Sea’s bountiful resources. When oil and natural gas reserves were discovered, China claimed ownership over the region for the third time. Global Journalist dove into the numbers to uncover what's at stake.
93 — Number of major islands, reefs and shoals controlled by China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and the Phillippines
$5 trillion — Estimated value of ship-borne trade on the South China Sea each year
60 years — The South China Sea has enough oil to support China for six decades
1.4 million — Size of the South China Sea in square miles
28, 476 — Square miles of ocean the China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) has claimed for development
9.4 million — Barrels of oil consumed by China each day in 2011
7.5 billion — Proven barrels of oil in the South China Sea
20 trillion — Estimated cubic feet of natural gas in South China Sea
Sources: encyclopedia.com, britannica.com, Reuters, Foreign Policy, SmartPlanet, CIA World Factbook