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Thursday, Sep. 6, 2012

Owner's spokesman denies rumors; China quick to vent outrage

Government seen sealing Senkaku deal at ¥2.05 billion


By MASAMI ITO and MIZUHO AOKI
Staff writers

The central government is rumored to have reached a basic agreement to purchase three of the Senkaku islets from their owner for some ¥2.05 billion, a development that will intensify an already fierce dispute with China over their sovereignty, sources said Wednesday.

News photo
Prime location: Three Senkaku islets thought bought by the central government, Minamikojima (foreground), Kitakojima (middle ground) and Uotsuri, are photographed Sunday. KYODO

But Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura refused to clarify whether a final deal had been struck, while the owner's younger brother told The Japan Times that he is unaware of any agreement and vented his anger over what he perceives as political maneuvering by the central government.

The news also threw officials at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government into a state of confusion, since it was the first body to declare its intentions to purchase the East China Sea islets, which are claimed by both China and Taiwan.

"We are in the middle of discussions with the metropolitan government and the landowner. I have no intention of revealing any details at this stage since the process" has yet to be finalized, Fujimura told reporters.

China called the reported purchase "illegal and invalid."

"For them to nationalize the Diaoyu islands seriously violates China's sovereignty and hurts the Chinese people's feelings," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular press briefing.

"I stress again that any of their unilateral acts with the Diaoyu islands are illegal and invalid. China's determination will not change in terms of safeguarding its territory. China is observing the situation and will take necessary measures to defend its sovereignty," Hong said.

Of the five islets in the cluster, four are owned by the Kurihara family from Saitama Prefecture and the islet of Taishojima by the central government.

Hiroyuki Kurihara, the 65-year old brother of Kunioki Kurihara, who owns the three islets of Uotsuri, Kitakojima and Minamikojima, said during an interview Wednesday that although he has not been able to discuss the matter with his older brother, nothing has been finalized to the best of his knowledge and he hasn't heard any mention of the reported ¥2.05 billion price.

Kurihara, who serves as the de facto spokesman on the matter for Kunioki Kurihara, 70, also voiced suspicion that the government may be leaking information about the alleged deal to speed up the acquisition process.

"These media reports have come out of the blue . . . who does the government think it's fooling?" Kurihara retorted angrily. "I don't like the way this is being handled and frankly I am furious . . . that in some way, the issue is possibly being used as a political tool."

Kurihara reiterated his family is not opposed to the islets ultimately being owned by the central government but stressed that the metropolitan government was the first to throw its hat in the ring and is still in the middle of evaluating the isles to determine an appropriate price.

"It just seems like the government is trying to get a head start and all that matters is making sure it lodges the highest bid," he said.

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara told reporters Wednesday morning that Kunioki Kurihara had informed Akiko Santo, a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker and the owner's longtime friend, that a deal with the central government has yet to be concluded.

"I can't be satisfied until I hear directly from the owner," Ishihara said.

However, the hawkish governor added that he would willingly hand over the more than ¥1.4 billion collected by the metro government through citizens' donations so far over the planned purchase, providing that the central government is able to reach an agreement with Kunioki Kurihara.

Meanwhile, a metropolitan government official said it hasn't been notified about such an agreement by the government and that he only learned about the purported deal through media reports Wednesday morning.

"We don't know anything about it," Takayuki Higuchi, a section chief at the metro government who handles Senkaku-related issues, told The Japan Times on Wednesday.

"There is no change in our policy. We plan to purchase (the islets) and to determine ways to make use of them. We will just keep moving forward with our plan."

But he declined to reveal any details concerning the current status of negotiations between the metro government and Kunioki Kurihara over acquiring the islets.

On Sunday, a team from the metropolitan government surveyed the islets from their surrounding waters and a second expedition is planned in October, one that Ishihara has said he will take part in.

Officials plan to determine a purchase price based on the two surveys and to present plans over the purchase to the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in December, with an eye on acquiring the isles next April.

Ishihara said Friday he has no objection to the central government buying the islets as long as it promises to construct a jetty for fishing boats. According to media reports, however, the government is unlikely to agree to his proposal.

Japan has effectively controlled the Senkaku Islands since 1895, but China, which refers to them as Diaoyu, as well as Taiwan, laid claim to them in the 1970s after studies indicated that potentially highly lucrative oil and gas reserves may lie under the seabed around them.

Information from Kyodo, AP added


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