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Okada Says Buying Disputed Islands Could Help Japan-China Ties

A Japanese proposal to buy islands also claimed by China could lead to “peaceful and stable relations,” Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada said.

The government is in talks to buy the islands, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Daioyu in Chinese, from their private owner, quashing an attempted purchase by Tokyo governor and China critic Shintaro Ishihara. China yesterday rejected the idea and vowed to take all necessary measures to defend its sovereignty over the islands.

Ishihara’s announcement set off tit-for-tat visits by activists on both sides to the islands in the East China Sea lying near oil and gas reserves. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is set to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao at a Asian summit this weekend in a bid to defuse tensions between the region’s two biggest economies.

“I don’t see a big problem with the Chinese government concerning the Senkaku islands,” Okada told reporters today in Tokyo. “We want the people of China to understand that a purchase of the islands by the national government is a better option for peaceful and stable relations.”

The cabinet may approve a deal to buy the islands for 2.05 billion yen ($26.1 million) on Sept. 11, the Nikkei newspaper said yesterday. Japan has administrative control over the uninhabited islands and pays the Japanese owner rent, a situation Okada described as “unstable” because they could be sold to anyone.

Chinese Opposition

Chinese state-run media have been filled with editorials and articles this week expressing opposition to the plan, and the government has repeatedly voiced its disapproval.

“The so-called nationalization of the island has seriously damaged China’s sovereignty and hurt Chinese people’s feelings,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said yesterday in Beijing. “China’s will and determination to safeguard our sovereignty is unshakable.”

Okada drew a contrast between the dispute with China and a separate territorial altercation with South Korea.

South Korean President Lee Myung Bak paid a surprise visit last month to islets known as Dokdo in Korean and as Takeshima in Japanese. Noda, who called the move “unacceptable,” is not scheduled to meet Lee at this weekend’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vladivostok, Russia.

“I am surprised by the attitude taken by South Korea’s government recently,” Okada said. “Japan’s attitude has not changed at all, because the relationship is important in terms of economics, politics and security.”

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