Tokyo governor, Shintaro Ishihara, plots to buy disputed islands

Tokyo’s conservative governor said Monday that the metropolitan government has decided to purchase a group of islands in the East China Sea at the center of a bitter bilateral territorial dispute between the two regional powers, in a move that could heighten tensions between Japan and China.

Shintaro Ishihara, a popular politician known for his nationalistic views and provocative style, said Tokyo has been negotiating with the private Japanese owners of the islands-known as the Senkaku in Japanese and the Diaoyu in Chinese-adding that the metropolitan government is close to reaching an agreement to buy them.

Both Japan and China claim the strategically coveted islands, located between Japan’s southern Okinawa Prefecture and Taiwan. A collision between a Chinese fishing boat and a Japanese coast guard vessel in September 2010 near the islands ignited a diplomatic spat that has left lingering scars in bilateral relations.

“Tokyo has decided to buy the Senkaku Islands. Tokyo is going to protect the Senkakus,” Mr. Ishihara said in a speech in Washington at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “Would anyone have a problem with an act by the Japanese to protect our own land?”

The purchase, Mr. Ishihara explained, is aimed at preventing China from taking “effective control” of the islands out of Japan’s hands, according to Japanese media reports. He didn’t disclose the value of the purchase, but added that the matter has to be discussed by the metropolitan assembly.

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Japan’s Troop Plan for Yonaguni Isle Divides Residents

YONAGUNI ISLAND, Japan — This remote island in the rough East China Sea is known for its gigantic moths, fiery Okinawan alcohol and an offshore rock formation that some believe to be the submerged ruins of a lost, Atlantis-like civilization.

Yonaguni is closer to Taiwan and China than to Tokyo; many residents would prefer expanded trade over a military base.

Now, Tokyo is drawing up plans to add something else: about 100 soldiers from the Self-Defense Force, Japan’s military.

Yonaguni, with three tiny villages and a small airport, is Japan’s westernmost point, a place from which Taiwan is visible on a clear day. It is also the closest spot of inhabited land to the Senkakus, a small group of uninhabited islets controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan, which call them the Diaoyu Islands.

This put Yonaguni and its 1,600 mostly aging residents uncomfortably close to a bruising diplomatic showdown with Beijing last September over a Chinese trawler detained near the Senkakus, which resulted in Tokyo’s backing down. The government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan has since vowed to beef up defenses for Japan’s “outlying islands,” and it appears close to a decision on the small Yonaguni garrison, a plan that has been under discussion for years.

“China keeps coming, and all we have protecting us now is a pair of pistols,” said Yonaguni’s mayor, Shukichi Hokama, referring to the two policemen who are the island’s only security presence.

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