The government yesterday urged Japan to deal cautiously with acts by its politicians on the sovereignty of the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, to avoid damage to bilateral relations.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman James Chang (章計平) made the remarks in response to a plan outlined by Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara on Monday to purchase three islets that are part of the Diaoyutai chain.
Ishihara, who made the comments during a visit to the Heritage Foundation in Washington, said the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has been negotiating with the private Japanese owners of the islands and it was close to reaching an agreement to buy them.
“Would anyone have a problem with an act by the Japanese to protect our own land?” Ishihara was quoted as saying.
“Tokyo has decided to buy them. Tokyo is going to protect the Senkaku Islands,” he said.
Ishihara said the purchase was aimed at preventing China from taking “effective control” of the islands out of Japan’s hands, according to media reports.
He said he had begun negotiations to purchase Uotsurijima, Kitakojima and Minamikojima in the uninhabited island chain, which is owned by a Japanese family and leased to the Japanese government.
The islands are owned by a family named Kurihara who bought them decades ago from descendants of the previous Japanese owners.
The online edition of the conservative Sankei Shimbun reported that the owners had agreed to sell to the Tokyo government.
Ishihara will hold hearings with experts and seek the agreement of the local legislature in his bid to buy the islands when the Japanese government’s annually renewable leases expires at the end of March, the Sankei said.
He did not discuss the expected cost of the islands in Washington, saying only they would be “not too expensive.”
In Taipei, Chang said that the ministry did not recognize any remarks made by Japanese politicians regarding the sovereignty of the Diaoyutais.
“We call on the Japanese government to handle the comments cautiously. We do not want to see any kind of actions taken unilaterally because they would damage our cordial relationship with Japan,” Chang said.
The Republic of China has long maintained that it holds sovereignty over the Diaoyutais, but that all claimants should set aside sovereignty disputes and instead jointly develop the region to the benefit all parties, Chang said.
“We urge all parties involved to tackle the issue in a peaceful, rational way,” he said.
If realized, Ishihara’s move would mark a new stage in the long-rumbling territorial dispute over the islands, which sit in rich fishing grounds that may harbor lucrative energy resources.
China also lays claim to the islands and relations between Tokyo and Beijing plunged in September 2010 when Japan’s coast guard detained a Chinese fishing boat captain who rammed a patrol boat near the islands.
China cut off exports of rare earth minerals and halted political and cultural exchanges, forcing Japan into what was widely seen as a humiliating climbdown.