The on-going dispute over the ownership of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands between China and Japan has often been ridiculed by observers as an unwise struggle for rocks. One must question, however, why so much significance has been attached to those “trivial specks” in the first place. This paper maintains that the seed of contemporary Sino-Japanese rivalry cannot be separated from the “expansion” of European international society, after which China and Japan came to be obsessed with sovereign independence and territorial integrity. Following the demise of the Ryukyu Kingdom, Qing Chinese officials realised that Meiji Japan was no longer within the borders of a once-shared civilisation, which prepared the ground for a series of violent conflicts between them, unusual in their millennium-old, largely peaceful interactions. A sustainable resolution of the Diaoyu/Senkaku issue, then, should move from calls for putting aside sovereignty differences towards a more inclusive, post- Westphalian bordering practice in East Asia.
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