Tokyo governor outlines plan to buy islands claimed by China

Anti-China protesters march in central Tokyo on October 16, 2010 over a group of islands claimed by both Japan and China.

Story highlights

  • Japan, China and Taiwan all claim sovereignty over a set of islands
  • The islands are currently controlled by Japan but privately owned
  • The Tokyo governor announces plans to buy them from the private owner
  • A maritime clash near the islands in 2010 strained ties between Japan and China

The Tokyo metropolitan government expects to strike a deal to buy a set of islands in the East China Sea claimed by both Japan and China, the governor of Tokyo has said.

"Tokyo will protect the Senkaku Islands," the governor, Shintato Ishihara, said during a speech in Washington on Monday, using the Japanese name for the islands. China calls them the Diaoyu Islands.

Japan controls the uninhabited, privately-owned islands, but both China and Taiwan separately claim them as part of their territory.

In September 2010, Japan detained the captain of a Chinese fishing vessel that collided with two Japanese Coast Guard ships near the disputed islands.

The captain's detention strained relations between Beijing and Tokyo, resulting in the cancellation of high-level bilateral meetings and threats by China to cut off exports of vital minerals to Japan.

Ishihara said Monday that he had been negotiating with the islands' private owner -- a Japanese family -- and would like to buy the land by the end of the year after having discussed it with Tokyo's council and assembly.

The announcement by the governor, who has been vocal about Japan's territorial issues in the past, created a stir in the local press.

"We got a lots of calls from citizens, and most of them are supporting the governor's decision," said Tatsuo Fuji, a spokesman for the Tokyo government.

There was no immediate reaction from the Chinese government to Ishihara's announcement.

But the comments drew a response from users of the popular Sina Weibo microblog service in China.

"We should take actions! Verbal protests have proven to be useless," wrote a user posting under the pseudonym Laosheng008.

Last month, China criticized a new version of a Japanese textbook that described the islands as part of Japanese territory.

"The Diaoyu Islands and their affiliated isles have been an inherent part of Chinese territory since ancient times," Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said at the time.

It remains to be seen whether the Tokyo government assembly will give its support to Ishihara's plan.