TOKYO, July 7 – Japan plans to buy a chain of uninhabited islands at the centre of a fierce territorial dispute with China and Taiwan back from its private owners, a local newspaper reported Saturday.
The government informed a nationalist politician — who had claimed Japan was not doing enough to protect the territory and had devised his own plan to purchase the islands — of its plan Friday, according to the Asahi Shimbun.
The move could renew tensions with both Beijing and Taipei as they also claim the islands in the East China Sea, called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyou in Chinese.
The influential daily said senior government officials were already negotiating with the owners, the Kurihara family, hoping to finalise the nationalisation plan to buy the same three islands by the end of the year.
The islands, which lie in rich fishing grounds and may harbour valuable mineral reserves, were bought by the Kurihara family decades ago from descendants of the previous Japanese owners.
They were inhabited by Japanese fishermen before the end of World War II.
The waters around them have been the scene of territorial spats including the arrest of a Chinese trawlerman in late 2010 when he rammed his boat into two Japanese patrol boats.
On Thursday, two Japanese nationals were seen swimming to Kitakojima and staying there for 90 minutes, the Japanese coastguard said.
Earlier this week Taiwanese vessels tangled with Japanese patrol ships in waters near the islands.
In April, Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara announced he was in talks to buy the islands for his metropolis.
He had already collected more than 1.3 billion yen ($16.3 million) in donations from across the country for his plan to buy three of the islands — Uotsurijima, Kitakojima and Minamikojima, the report said.