The Sun Herald

By Catherine Armitage

The sale of an island off the coast of Queensland, asking price $6.75 million, generates a few alluring ads in the real estate press and dreams of an idyllic lifestyle in the minds of real estate porn addicts. What couldn't you do on nine beach-bound hectares with a four-bedroom house, a pool, a tennis court and a helipad?

By contrast the sale of an island north-east of Taiwan in the East China Sea by a Japanese businessman to the Japanese government for $30 million generates four days of anti-Japanese rioting in China.

The island is one of a group of eight, some of them merely rocks, known by the Chinese as Diaoyu and the Japanese as Senkaku.

They add up to seven square kilometres which both Japan and China claim as their own, all the more loudly since it emerged that rich undersea oil reserves may lie nearby.

The Diaoyu islands is one of the few clear answers to the question Washington policy types ask themselves: what does China really want in the Asia-Pacific? As China steps cautiously back into great power shoes, we don't really know yet, explained Bonnie Glaser of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington at a talk for the US Studies Centre in Sydney this week.

But it's a fair guess that China would like to see the US out of the region, said Glaser, who frequently advises the US government on such things. ''After all, we are interfering, from their perspective, in all their problems,'' she said.

But that ain't gonna happen, as Obama's ''east Asia pivot'' - wonk-speak for the reinvigorated US focus on the region - is supposed to make clear.

So it's an excellent thing that China's new President, Xi Jinping, heads to the US next month for a ''no necktie'' summit with Obama.

The more they talk, the smaller the risk of miscalculation in what Glaser calls the world's ''most consequential bilateral relationship''.

And that means more idyllic islands, in the long run.

This article originally appeared in The Sun Herald.