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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Islet Row Intensifies For Japan, Koreans

TOKYO -- Japan and South Korea announced competing claims Tuesday for 200-nautical mile economic zones around their countries, intensifying a territorial dispute over a barren group of islets.

But in an apparent effort to soften the diplomatic impact of the announcements, both countries deliberately avoided mentioning the islets by name. The South Koreans call them Tok-do, and the Japanese Takeshima.

The two countries have argued sharply in the past week over ownership of the tiny islets, which lie about halfway between them in the Sea of Japan, known as the East Sea in Korea.

The conflict has simmered for nearly a century, and reignited recently after both countries announced their intention to declare exclusive economic zones under the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty.

Military analysts say the mainly uninhabited atolls are the reason for a growing naval race in Asia as nations of the region seek to claim rich fishing grounds, oil, possible underwater mineral deposits and even holiday spots.

Ironically, the UN treaty -- adopted by the General Assembly in November 1994 to nudge countries with rival territorial claims to settle them -- is behind the sudden revival of old rivalries.

The zoning moves have run into Asia's colonial past, legacies of the Cold War, the dash to lock up resources and deep-seated historical rivalries.

Perhaps the biggest potential source of conflict are the Spratly Islands, located in a sea lane connecting fast-growing economies of East Asia with the oil-rich Middle East. Six countries claim part or all of them -- China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. (AP, Reuters)

The Manila-Beijing dispute over the Spratlys intensified last year when the Philippines announced the discovery of bases China had built on part of the Spratlys Manila claims.

Natural resource-poor Japan, with Asia's largest navy, has a life-or-death stake in the oil passing through the Spratlys.

On Tuesday, Japan's cabinet decided to proceed with moves to declare a 200-mile economic zone, which only needs parliamentary approval before becoming law.

Even Singapore is engaged in a dispute -- with Malaysia over the island of Pedra Branca, which controls entry into Singapore's port. The case is now before the International Court of Justice.