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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Senkaku owners prefer selling islets to Tokyo, hope all nations can benefit


Staff writer

The family that owns the disputed Senkaku Islands said Friday in Tokyo they intend to proceed with selling their holdings to the metropolitan government, expressing concern that relations with China and Taiwan could come under even more strain if the central government becomes the ultimate owner.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, Hiroyuki Kurihara, 65, acting as spokesman for the family, expressed concern over the rising hostility between Japan, China and Taiwan over the family's plan to sell their four islets to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government headed by hawkish Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.

The islets in the East China Sea are controlled by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan and are often the source of diplomatic tension.

"It is often said that this situation could turn into a war and in order to prevent such a thing from occurring, we should not create an environment where both sides" could go too far, Kurihara said. "I think that the deal between an individual and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is smoother than a purchase by the central government, which could add" to the dispute.

But Kurihara later elaborated that it will be up to Tokyo to decide whether to sell the islands to the central government, as long as they are not sold off to private corporations.

The Kurihara family has owned four of the Senkaku chain's five uninhabited islets for decades. The central government currently owns the islet of Taishojima. The family bought the four islands from Zenji and Hanako Koga, whose family had been managing them since the 1890s and promised that if they were to eventually sell them, the new owners could only be the central government or a Japanese municipality.

The Kurihara family bought Kitakojima and Minamikojima in 1972, followed by Uotsuri in 1978 and Kuba in 1988. Hiroyuki Kurihara's brother, Kunioki, is the current official owner of Kitakojima, Minamikojima and Uotsuri, while a younger sister owns Kuba.

Kurihara said that the family's wish is to ultimately share the rich marine products in the surrounding waters with other economies, including China and Taiwan.

"Everyone has their livelihood to consider and I think what would be the best economic activity is if everyone, including Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese, can work together (to share) the marine resources," he said.

The family has been at the center of media attention since Ishihara suddenly revealed in April his intention to have Tokyo own the islands, which led to Prime Minister Yoshishiko Noda voicing the central government's hope to acquire them as well.

The central government reportedly intends to build a lighthouse and a port of refuge in the islands. On Friday, Kurihara noted this was "the best idea" as it would benefit fishermen in Okinawa.

The government has been paying ¥25 million per year as rent for Kitakojima, Minamikojima and Uotsuri. The current contract ends next March. Kurihara said the family wants to conclude the deal with Tokyo as soon as possible.

"My brother is 70 . . . and I believe he wants to hand down the islands to the next generation while he is still alive," Kurihara said. "He has been protecting the islands for 40 years and perhaps he is tired."



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The Japan Times

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