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Jul 10, 2012 02:28 PM IST | Source: ft.com

Japan resists China over disputed islands

Japan has rejected protests from China and Taiwan over plans to buy islands at the centre of a bitter territorial dispute from their private owner, saying the move was aimed at "calm and stable" management of the uninhabited archipelago and nearby seas.

Japan resists China over disputed islands

Japan has rejected protests from China and Taiwan over plans to buy islands at the centre of a bitter territorial dispute from their private owner, saying the move was aimed at "calm and stable" management of the uninhabited archipelago and nearby seas.


Yoshihiko Noda, Japan's prime minister, said at the weekend that the central government was considering buying three islands in the remote Japanese-controlled Senkaku chain, which is known in China as the Diaoyu and in Taiwan as the Diaoyutai.


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Beijing and Taipei quickly objected, with China's foreign ministry saying the country would continue to take necessary measures to "resolutely defend" sovereignty over the islands, a collection of rocky outcrops in the East China Sea.


"Nobody is allowed to trade in China's sacred territory," the ministry said in a statement posted on its website on Saturday.


In a sign of the passions being aroused by recent tensions, a Chinese military scholar has called for China's new aircraft carrier to be named Diaoyu Islands.


In an essay published in the Communist party's Global Times newspaper on Monday, Major General Luo Yuan, who is known for his hawkish views, suggested China should use areas near the Diaoyu for military exercises including guided missile tests and should make one island an air force live firing range.


However, Osama Fujimura, Japan's top government spokesman, insisted that Japanese sovereignty over the islands was not in question and that the government had rejected the protests from China and Taiwan.


Japan's central government rents the three islands from their private owner, but bans landings on them and restricts access to nearby waters, an arrangement intended to reduce frictions with China.


However, this arrangement has been challenged by Shintaro Ishihara, the nationalist governor of Tokyo, who says more should be done to "protect" the islands and has launched an effort to have the Japanese capital buy them for possible development.


In an interview with the Financial Times last month, Uichiro Niwa, Japan's ambassador to China, warned that Mr Ishihara's scheme could spark an "extremely grave crisis" in relations between east Asia's leading powers.


While Japanese cabinet ministers quickly disavowed Mr Niwa's remarks as his opinion, officials say the best way to forestall a purchase of the islands by Tokyo would be for the central government to buy them instead.


The government's intention was to "continue quiet and peaceful management of the Senkaku Islands and nearby seas," Mr Fujimura said.


Tensions surrounding the Senkakus have risen sharply since a clash between a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese coastguard in the area in 2010 disrupted diplomatic and economic exchanges between Tokyo and Beijing for months.


Last month Japanese nationalists including six members of the national Diet toured waters near the islands by boat. Last week two people including a member of the municipal assembly of the Okinawan city that has administrative jurisdiction over the islands defied the ban on landings by swimming ashore to one of the group.


In his Global Times essay, Maj Gen Luo called for a strengthened coast guard to enforce China's maritime claims. "If the Japanese government 'can't control' their own 'naughty children', then we will help them do so," he wrote.

Separately, Japan's coast guard said last week that a leisure boat carrying activists from Taiwan along with four Taiwanese patrol boats entered territorial waters around the island last week. One of the Taiwanese vessels grazed a Japanese coast guard vessel before departing the area.

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