From sultry tropical seas to frosty arctic oceans, dozens of obscure, isolated and often uninhabited islands lie awash in ambiguous seas, contested by countries countless kilometers away. Chronically disputed by neighboring nations and the occasional focus of fervent nationalistic frenzy, these islands, atolls and archipelagos exist in a geographic limbo that shifts with the winds of political power.
Daioyu Islands / Senkaku Islands / Tiaoyutai Islands
These islands are situated in the East China Sea about 120 miles northeast of Taiwan (ROC), 200 miles east of the Chinese (PRC) mainland and 200 miles southwest of the Japanese island of Okinawa. The respective names of these and the other islands and island groups listed in this article are posted in alphabetical order. The dispute over the islands is mainly between China and Japan. Though historical claims and counterclaims date back centuries, the dispute has heated up recently, possibly fueled by an upcoming leadership change in China.
(image via: The Possibilities Are Endless)
The Pinnacle Islands, to use a neutral and non-nationalistic name, are made up of five small islands and three barren rocks. The islands have historically been uninhabited except for the occasional establishment of fish processing facilities connected with the rich fishing grounds surrounding the islands.
Island of Vukovar
The Island of Vukovar (Vukovarska ada, in Croatian) hugs the Serbian shore of the Danube river northeast of the Croatian city of Vukovar. While the nation of Yugoslavia existed, the island was considered to be part of Croatia. During the 1991-95 Croatian War of Independence, however, Serb-affiliated forces occupied the island and Serbian police still patrol to maintain order.
(image via: HR Forum)
The Island of Vukovar is locally renowned for its bathing beaches, which were off-limits to Croatian citizens for 16 years after the breakup of Yugoslavia. In 2006, however, authority over the island was granted to Vukovar’s Sports Recreation Society Dunav, and Croatians were allowed to visit the island during daylight hours in summer.
Huangyan Island / Scarborough Shoal
Scarborough Shoal, called “Kulumpol ng Panatag” by the Philippines and Huangyan Island by China, is located 137 miles (220 km) due west of Luzon Island in the Philippines. Though claimed by China, Taiwan and the Philippines, the shoal is much closer to the latter.
(image via: Paulhechanova/Panoramio)
The shoal is not a seamount but merely a high point of a regional oceanic plain. Coral reefs have grown around the shoal’s edges allowing a shallow lagoon to form in its center. As the highest point of Scarborough Shoal itself is just 3 meters (9.8 ft) above sea level, perhaps global warming will eventually solve the issue of sovereignty.
Hans Island / Tartupaluk
Canada and Denmark have a boundary dispute? Unlikely as a quick look at a globe or atlas may make it seem, the two nations abut along a borderline demarcated through the Kennedy Channel of Nares Strait, which separates Canada’s arctic Ellesmere Island from Denmark-administrated northern Greenland. The fly in the ointment is Hans Island (Tartupaluk, in Inuit), a city-block-sized rock inconveniently positioned in the center of the Channel and split equally by the agreed-upon international borderline.
(image via: Dave Walsh Photo)
It’s very unlikely that either Canada or Denmark will exaggerate the issue beyond a war of words (or flags) but with global warming making the previously frosty region more amenable to commercial fishing and resources development, the right to plant one’s flag becomes an issue of paramount economic importance.