Taipei, Taiwan • They are mere specks on the map. Many are uninhabited, and others sparsely so by seasonal residents. Yet the disputed ownership of these tiny constellations of islands is inflaming nationalist fervor from the cold North Pacific to the tropical South China Sea.
In recent weeks, these long-simmering tensions have returned to a boil, with violent protests in Chinese cities, a provocative island junket by South Korea's lame-duck president, and Japan's government reportedly planning to buy disputed islands from their private owners.
The popular analysis is that the rising tensions are fueled by a regional power shift that has seen China become increasingly assertive with its neighbors in securing claims over potentially resource-rich waters. But the growing acrimony may have at least as much to do with domestic political posturing.