TOKYO, April 17 Tokyo's controversial governor
wants to use public funds to buy islands disputed between Japan
and China, a plan bound to infuriate Beijing.
The islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China,
have long been the centre of maritime territorial disputes
between China and neighbours both citing historical and other
claims over fishing areas and potential rich gas deposits.
Shintaro Ishihara, 79, announced the idea of buying the
uninhabited islands in the East China Sea from private owners
during his visit to Washington and the Tokyo metropolitan
government confirmed the plan on Tuesday.
In a statement citing Ishihara, the Tokyo government said
the islands were "extremely important" for Japan and offered
great potential for development of natural resources and
Japanese government spokesman said he was not aware of the
plan and declined further comment.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry news official told Reuters by
telephone it had "no information to offer" regarding the plan.
Diplomatic ties between Beijing and Tokyo hit a low point in
late 2010 after Japan's arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain
near the disputed islands, though they have improved since then.
In 2008, Beijing and Tokyo agreed in principle to jointly
develop gas fields near the islands, but progress has been slow
and Japan has accused China of drilling for gas in violation of
Kyodo news agency quoted Ishihara as saying that talks with
owners were already under way and that a deal could be wrapped
up by the end of the year.
Ishihara, elected for a fourth term a year ago, is no
stranger to controversy, admired by some for his blunt style, a
rarity in Japan, and lambasted by others for a tendency to
Last year, he was forced to apologise for suggesting that
the March 11 earthquake and tsunami were "divine punishment" for
the "egoism" of the Japanese people.
(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee
in Beijing; Writing by Tomasz Janowski; Editing by Nick Macfie)