The roiling dispute over a remote set of rocks in the East China Sea, known to the Japanese as the Senkaku Islands and to the Chinese as the Diaoyus, is more than a mere diplomatic spat between two of the world’s largest economies. It has stripped away the thin veneer of cooperation between the two Asian giants that most observers assumed would ripen as the two countries became increasingly economically intertwined. It also serves as yet another reminder of just how potent territorial disputes remain in Asia and how little trust there is between countries where the wounds of previous conflicts are still fresh. Although the probability of actual conflict between China and Japan over the Senkakus is negligible, the current crisis is the herald of a new cold war that will persist for years, if not decades. The result will be an Asia that remains fragmented, unable to overcome the baggage of the past, and one in which the specter of accidental conflict is ever present.
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