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Thursday, Sep. 20, 2012

Islets' former owners want Japan to take spat to ICJ

Staff writer

Japan should take China to the International Court of Justice to settle the dispute over the Senkaku Islands once and for all, according to Hiroyuki Kurihara, whose older brother sold three of the islets to the government last week.

News photo
Hiroyuki Kurihara

An unprecedented number of demonstrations and riots broke out in China immediately after the government announced that it had bought the islets from Kunioki Kurihara for ¥2.05 billion.

Angry Chinese burned and looted Japanese stores and products as they proclaimed that the islets, which they call Diaoyu, belong to China.

Kurihara, who has been acting as spokesman for his 70-year-old brother, expressed hope that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will take the initiative like he did with the island dispute with South Korea and turn to the ICJ to seek an international judgement on the sovereignty of the Senkakus.

"China is very outspoken about its position over the Senkaku Islands, but Japan has its own position as well, and it needs to get that message out to the global community — and I think the best way is to turn to the ICJ," Kurihara told The Japan Times. "Once both sides start stating their positions and listing their evidence of sovereignty, there is no end. . . . An objective decision should be made under international law, not by the people of both countries."

The Kurihara family bought four of the five Senkaku islets from a family friend and his wife in the 1970s, keeping the promise they made not to resell them to anyone but Japan's central government or a local government.

Although Hiroyuki Kurihara was also the legal owner of a couple of the islets at one point, the family later decided to have Kunioki own Uotsuri, Kitakojima and Minamikojima, while their younger sister became the owner of Kubajima.

Hiroyuki Kurihara, 65, expressed concern over the violence in China but said that selling them to the central government was the right thing to do.

"We are getting older and who knows when something would happen to us. It was about risk management," he said. "We've made countless efforts to protect the islands for 40 years. And I think the same thing would have happened if my brother had sold the islands 10 years ago or 10 years from now — because the word 'territory' remained" unresolved in China's view.

The deal came to light this spring when hawkish Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara suddenly announced that the metropolitan government would buy the islets from Kurihara's brother. He even raised more than ¥1.4 billion in public donations for the purchase.

Following Ishihara's announcement, the central government began to explore the possibility of buying the islets. In the end, the central government won hands down, outbidding him.

"I think that the Tokyo governor definitely achieved something by taking action — he succeeded in raising awareness among the Japanese people over territory," Kurihara said.

News that the family sealed the deal with the government leaked out earlier this month before Ishihara or the family could confirm it.

Although Kurihara said he has not spoken with his older brother about it, he believes the decision may have been swayed by a bill submitted to the Diet by some Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers that would enable the government to expropriate uninhabited remote islands — like the Senkakus — to manage them properly based on the Compulsory Purchase of Land Law.

The Kurihara family ran afoul of that law in 1961, when the government forcefully removed their belongings and tore down their home in Omiya, Saitama Prefecture.

The central government and the prefecture were trying to build a bridge, and the family was the only property owner that refused to budge.

"Compulsory purchase of land is traumatic for the Kurihara family," Kurihara said, explaining that when the government executes such measures, the landowner stands to lose a lot of money.

"I think that (the LDP bill) was the cause of my brother's switch from Tokyo to the central government to conclude the sale as soon as possible," he said

How the central government persuaded Kurihara's brother has yet to be revealed, but in the end it succeeded in becoming the owner of Uotsuri, Kitakojima and Minamikojima, in addition to Taishojima, which it had already owned.

But there are five islets. Kubajima still has to be dealt with.

Kurihara's sister, whose name has not been disclosed, has been leasing the island to the Defense Ministry, which allows the U.S. to use it as a bombing exercise site.

"Yes, Kubajima remains an unresolved issue and this is even more complicated because there is a triangular relationship between the Kurihara family, the Defense Ministry and the U.S. forces," Kurihara said.

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