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Wednesday, Sep. 12, 2012

China enraged, sends ships

¥2 billion deal nationalizes the Senkakus

Staff writer

The government signed a ¥2.05 billion contract Tuesday with the owner of three of the five Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, effectively nationalizing the territory and immediately drawing a strong protest from Beijing, which sent surveillance ships to the area.

The government also officially approved a ¥2.05 billion reserve fund budget for the deal to buy the Senkaku islets of Uotsuri, Kitakojima and Minamikojimaku from Kunioki Kurihara, a businessman from Saitama Prefecture.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry was quick to blast the nationalization as "totally illegal and invalid" and "a gross violation of China's sovereignty over its own territory."

It warned Japan's action could have "serious consequences" and vowed that China would take unspecified "necessary measures to protect its territorial sovereignty." China claims the islets, which it calls Diaoyu.

According to Chinese media reports, two Chinese surveillance and patrol ships arrived near the uninhabited islets in the morning.

The two ships, identified as the Haijian 46 and Haijian 49, reportedly belong to China Marine Surveillance, a maritime law-enforcement agency under the State Oceanic Administration that began conducting patrol activities near the disputed territory in December 2008.

To ease tensions, the Foreign Ministry dispatched Shinsuke Sugiyama, head of its Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, to Beijing on Tuesday to explain Japan's action and urge Beijing to remain calm.

"If there is some difficult situation that could stir up national sentiments in (China and Japan), it's quite important to prevent misunderstanding or unexpected accidents," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters, reiterating the official line that the central government purchased the islets in order to secure their "peaceful and stable management."

The government does not plan to construct any fishery or military facilities on the islets to avoid further diplomatic rows with Beijing, despite Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara's persistent calls on the central government to build a typhoon shelter for Japanese fishing boats.

Fujimura argued the deal was just an official transfer of ownership of the islets within Japan and should not be construed as having anything to do with territorial disputes.

"This should not cause any problems with other countries or regions," Fujimura said.

But China has repeatedly urged the government to drop its bid, threatening to take "necessary measures" if it were to go ahead with the purchase.

When President Hu Jintao briefly met Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Sunday in Vladivostok, Russia, he expressed "firm opposition" to the planned nationalization and said Japan's action would be "illegal and invalid.

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba reiterated to reporters the government's position that "there is no doubt that the Senkaku Islands are a part of Japanese territory and there are no territorial disputes over the islands. We decided (to buy them) only with the intention to maintain and control them peacefully and stably."

He also stressed the importance of bilateral ties and said Japan did not intend to damage its relations with China.

"The ties with China are one of the most important bilateral relationships for Japan. . . . We must not let this issue get in the way of the stable development of Tokyo-Beijing ties," Genba said.

"We must calmly deal with the issue from a comprehensive viewpoint and continue to be able to communicate with each other to make sure there are no misunderstandings or errors in judgment."

The government has stressed that the uninhabited islets were incorporated into Japanese territory in 1895 after careful surveys to make sure they were not owned by any person or another country. But after the U.N. issued a report on the potential gas and oil reserves in 1971, China and Taiwan officially began to declare ownership and the islands are often the source of diplomatic friction.

Information from Kyodo added

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The Japan Times

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