Rocky Relations

The future of two tiny, remote islets almost equidistant between Japan and South Korea might appear to matter only to the black-tailed gull and 21 other species of birds native to their craggy outcroppings. Without arable land or any fresh water, these 18 hectares of rocky mounds are barely habitable by humans. Indeed, the islands' population consists of as few as three dozen people, including some 30 Korean police, one or two lighthouse keepers and a married couple who have lived and fished there for more than three decades. The economic significance of the islands is no less marginal: the surrounding...

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