Why Are China and Japan Sparring Over Eight Tiny, Uninhabited Islands?

A team of Japanese surveyors prepares to depart for the Senkaku Islands, where oil and natural gas prospects loom large in a dispute with China. Below, a map shows the Senkaku and two other potentially energy-rich island chains that are part of a tug of war in the region.


Part of our weekly "In Focus" series—stepping back, looking closer.

Why are China and Japan locked in a tense face-off, alarming the world and inflicting substantial economic pain on themselves, over a bunch of tiny uninhabited islands in the East China Sea?

Nationalist politics and historical resentments figure heavily in the territorial dispute, as do fish. But there's another potent ingredient: energy.