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There are even large reefs, like Mischief Reef in the South China Sea, where countries have engaged in land reclamation and military deployment. China has been building airstrips on Mischief Reef for years but it is the subject of a territorial dispute between China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam. Now and again, the US navy sails a ship nearby in a show of competition with the Chinese.

Quite often, they concern large, wealthy nations whose borders have more or less been clearly defined for many decades. Part of the reason for this is that there is some value in retaining legal uncertainty over whether one territorial claim is more valid than another.

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International maritime law works by precedent, so conceding a territory might have unintended consequences in the future. This means that leaving things in limbo is quite often desirable. Eyal adds that there are political sensitivities at play here, too. Politicians who resolved a dispute could later be criticised for how it was handled. Godforsaken frozen rock or valuable territory? Because new islands or territories are formed when volcanoes erupt, waters recede, or Arctic ice melts, this subject is one that in some ways is always evolving.

Interest in certain regions also changes over time depending on the nature of trade and resource exploration among other things, so disputes are sometimes forced into the limelight despite having lain dormant for many years. For example, with rising diplomatic and military tensions between the US and China, the sovereignty of islands in the South China Sea has become more and more important.

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Places like Mischief Reef have been dragged into the debate purely because of how relations between these two superpowers have developed. But taking rash actions, such as military intervention, over tiny territories is probably not on the cards for any of these states.

And so these fragmented bits of land dotted around the globe continue to be the subject of rhetoric and wars of words. At least this way the assertions of each side are able to persist in a way that, perhaps, benefits both.

If the US were to give in over some godforsaken frozen rock in the Arctic, the principle would be used by others to suggest they accept a certain interpretation of the law of the sea — Jonathan Eyal. If you resolve the dispute and end up with a compromise, you can be accused of betraying your country.

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Send us feedback. Barren Ground bear. See more words from the same century. More Definitions for barren.

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See the full definition for barren in the English Language Learners Dictionary. Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with barren. Spanish Central: Translation of barren. Nglish: Translation of barren for Spanish Speakers. Britannica English: Translation of barren for Arabic Speakers. What made you want to look up barren? Please tell us where you read or heard it including the quote, if possible. Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

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The barren land of Lake Turkana

Test your knowledge of words related to the season of longer days and vacations. Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words? Other Words from barren Adjective barrenly adverb. Choose the Right Synonym for barren Adjective bare , naked , nude , bald , barren mean deprived of naturally or conventionally appropriate covering.