Fault Lines: Geopolitical Rivalry in the East China Sea


Fault Lines: Geopolitical Rivalry in the East China Sea



Nicholas Alexander Dalton



The Senkaku Islands dispute in the East China Sea stands as a major territorial dispute between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Japan. This dispute has periodically reemerged in the interactions between these two states between 1895, when the Senkaku Islands were definitively administered by Japan, and the present day. The dispute has undergone significant changes in its emphasis by both the PRC and Japan, as well as what the dispute is about. At its early stages, the Senkaku Islands dispute was largely ignored by both China and Japan. Even between 1971 and 1978, when the Senkaku Islands dispute entered its modern form, the dispute was deemphasized to promote normalization of relations between the PRC and Japan. However, after the 1980s, with a rising PRC and somewhat economically and militarily weaker Japan, the dispute emerged with new intensity. In turning to the focus of the Senkaku Islands dispute, this has involved both economic interests, such as the resources in and around the adjacent seabed, as well as elements of popular nationalism. The Senkaku Islands dispute has created significant tensions and military development between Japan and the PRC. This paper examines how the Senkaku Islands dispute has driven militarization between the PRC and Japan.

Publication Date


Project Designation

Honors Thesis

Primary Advisor

Christopher S. Agnew

Primary Advisor's Department



Stander Symposium project

Fault Lines: Geopolitical Rivalry in the East China Sea