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China and Japan face off: Tiny islands, big dispute (+video)

The China and Japan face off over five islands has sunk relations to a 40-year low - the worst since diplomatic relations began. But the sabre rattling is just for show, say analysts.

Raw video of Chinese military drill in East China Sea
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The Great Hall of the People, the heart of Beijing's ceremonial political life, should have been ringing last month with toasts and speeches to fete the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Japan.

But the banquet rooms sat silent, the celebrations canceled.

The two neighbors' ancient enmity had ensnared them again, this time in a territorial dispute over a handful of remote islands.

Hotheads on both sides of the East China Sea were calling for war. Even the coolest heads could not rule that prospect out.

"Relations are worse than they have ever been in 40 years," says Liu Jiangyong, a professor of Japanese politics at Tsinghua University in Beijing. "I don't see much chance of a war; but I think Japan is preparing for one, and we should, too."

The possibility of armed conflict between the world's second- and third-largest economies is enough to scare governments around the globe. It is especially alarming to the United States, whose alliance with Japan would draw it into any fighting.

Beijing and Tokyo both claim sovereignty over five islands in the East China Sea, known as the Diaoyu in China and as the Senkaku in Japan, which administers them.

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