For the first time since last month's fishing boat incident in the Japanese Senkaku islands, the Prime Ministers of China and Japan have held a face-to-face meeting. Apparently there was agreement of restoring relations, but little else.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was quoted in Chinese state media as stressing that the islands, which the Chinese call Diaoyu, "have been Chinese since ancient times", a claim which neatly ignores reality for the past 100+ years.
Japan's Naoto Kan commented that "It is important to mutually respect shared rules of the international community, including those of transactions of raw materials and trade in order to deepen the mutually interdependent relations between Asia and Europe and to achieve mutual growth. It is imperative for related countries and regions to take responsible actions to strengthen trust and to establish a foundation for peace and stability."
While I could always be mistaken, I think that's a very polite Japanese way of saying, "Fuck you, and the horse you rode in on."
China's aggressive belligerence in the Senkaku Islands of the East China Sea is part of the same strategy demonstrated in the Spratly and Paracel Islands of the South China Sea. Chinese claims in both areas rest entirely upon largely-imaginary "have been Chinese since ancient times" arguments. Chinese claims in both areas are really about extensive gas and oil deposits on the nearby sea floor, not a few marginally-habitable islands. Fishing rights are a consideration, but a secondary one.
Now, on to the business of precedent. In law, international law or any other kind, precedent is worshiped like a tiny god.
It is worth noting that the Chinese claims of "Chinese since ancient times" which are heard in the China Sea disputes, are very similar to the "God gave it to us 3000 years ago" claims which are Israel's only real claim to Occupied Palestine. If one of those claims is agreed to by the international community, this will greatly strengthen the other claim, because it will establish precedent.