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Last Sunday, on September 15th, thousands of Chinese Americans hit the streets to demonstrate their anger at the recent acquisition of the contested Senkaku Islands. The acquisition occured when the Japanese government purchased the islands from the previous private Japanese owners. In case you doubted the seriousness of this demonstration please review the signs on the video below!

SF Chinatown Demonstration SF SF Chinatown Demonstration (Courtesy of John Tanake)

This demonstration was by no means unique and is just one more sign of increased tensions between China and Japan. These tensions and indeed the disagreement over whom the Senkaku islands rightfully belong to were started over a century ago when Japan made its move to colonize its western neighbors.

German cannon used to defend Qingdao from Japanese invasion

German cannon, Qingdao, China

Although Japan came into the colonial game later than most European powers, they would nevertheless leave a significant influence on a number of Asian countries, including China. The first city on Mainland China that they occupied was Qingdao, which they took from the Germans during WWI.

However, we must journey even further back in the history books to discover Japan’s claim to these islands. Japan would first make claim to the Senkaku Islands at the very end of the 19th century when they took over the island of Taiwan as well as the Korean Peninsula. Since then the Japanese have never truly lost their claim on these uninhabited islands, even after their defeat in WWII. However, it wasn’t until 1972 that the US Government officially handed them back over to Japan.

Much like South Korea, the Chinese government and its people feel very strongly that the Japanese have wrongfully kept claims on these islands. The debate over who should rightfully control these islands and the waters around them is likely not over yet, and there has already been economic and political ramifications. For now however it seems that the US is willing to puts its support behind the Japanese claim.