Japan's government said Sept. 10 it has decided to purchase several disputed islands from their private owners, a step that is likely to anger China.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Japan plans to buy the three uninhabited islands in the East China Sea from a Japanese family it recognizes as the owner. China and Taiwan also claim the islands, which are part of what Japan calls the Senkakus and China the Diaoyu.
Fujimura said the decision was made in a meeting of Cabinet ministers who are involved in the purchase plans. The full Cabinet, led Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, approved the decision on Sept. 11.
Fujimura said the decision to nationalize the islands reflects Japan's desire to create a "stable and secure" environment, not to anger China.
"We hope there will be no misunderstandings," he said.
Under the nationalization plan, the islands are to be left as they are now. China does not recognize the Japanese family's deed to the islands as legitimate.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China was determined to protect its own sovereignty over the islands. "We are following closely how this develops and will take the necessary actions to safeguard China's sovereignty," he said.
In April, Shintaro Ishihara, the outspoken governor of Tokyo, announced that he was hoping that his city would buy the islands and push for their development, a move that would have inflamed relations with China even more.
The dispute has long been a flashpoint in Japan-China relations, and has been heating up in recent months.
Earlier this month, the city of Tokyo sent a team of experts to waters around the islands to survey fishing grounds and possible sites for development, a move that was strongly criticized by China. Activists from Japan and Hong Kong briefly set foot on the islands last month, and hundreds of Chinese have held street protests in various cities in recent weeks.
The dispute over the islands boiled over into a major diplomatic tiff between the two neighbors after a Sept. 7, 2010, incident in which a Chinese fishing boat collided with Japanese coast guard ships near the islands. The fishing boat captain was arrested and later released.
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A related article is available at (http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/politics/AJ201209050013).
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