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Who cares about volcanic specks in Pacific? China, Vietnam, Japan.

A diplomatic ruckus has reignited over resource-rich and militarily strategic seas that lie off their coasts, as China moves to build a tourist resort in the Paracels and calls Japan's building plans on Okinotori illegal.

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A handful of volcanic specks in the Pacific Ocean are sparking fresh diplomatic ruckus, as China and its neighbors tussle over the resource-rich and militarily strategic seas that lie off their coasts.

Beijing infuriated Vietnam last week by announcing plans for a luxury tourist resort in the Paracels, a scattering of coral-fringed islets in the South China Sea that China, Vietnam, and Taiwan all claim as their territory.

Japan's plans for a port on its farthest-flung possession, the remote Pacific atoll of Okinotori, meanwhile, drew a sharp response from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, which accused Tokyo of violating international maritime law.

At the heart of both disputes lie the prospect of oil and gas wealth beneath the crystalline waters – and Chinese military ambitions.

The Paracels, lying almost equidistant between China and Vietnam, have been under Beijing’s control since Chinese forces seized the islands after a brief war in 1974. Since then, they have been mostly off-limits to civilians, and house only a military presence.

A tourist development plan released last week, however, foresees a high-end resort. Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga demanded Monday that China abandon the project, which she said “causes tension and further complicates the situation.”

Ms. Nga’s Chinese counterpart, Jiang Yu, retorted Tuesday that Beijing has “indisputable sovereignty” over the islands. Whoever enjoys sovereignty also enjoys exclusive economic rights for 230 miles in all directions from the islands, over an area believed to hold rich oil and gas reserves.

Ms. Jiang had more to say on the subject of little-known Pacific atolls Thursday, when she charged that reported Japanese plans to build a port on Okinotori, which lies 1,050 miles south of Tokyo, “do not conform with international maritime law.”


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