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Ishigaki mayor likes Tokyo plan to buy Senkaku islands

Date Posted: 2012-04-25

Ishigaki mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama has told Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara that he supports the Tokyo metropolitan government's plan to buy some islands in the city that are part of the Senkaku chain.

Nakayama’s opinion, of course, flies in the face of criticism coming from China and Taiwan, both countries irritated at the proposal for the Senkakus islands, which they consider their territory. During their 10-minute talk at the Tokyo government's office, Ishihara explained why and how he revealed the plan to buy the islands in the East China Sea during a speech in the United States. Nakayama said he accepted Ishihara's suggestion that the Tokyo prefectural government should conduct negotiations with the landowner.

The mayor said they did not discuss the idea of the Tokyo and Ishigaki governments buying the islands jointly, pointing out "For me, this is in sight but has not been fixed, as it is likely to come up in the process of negotiations." The Ishigaki assembly has adopted an opinion paper demanding the Japanese government buy the islands.
Nakayama said he wants to explain openly to the city assembly and residents that he met with Ishihara. Ishihara told reporters that the Tokyo government has a lot of experience on the development of remote islands and can cooperate with the city if Tokyo acquires the islands in the Senkaku chain.

Ishihara’s plan continues to irritate both China and Taiwan, who have issued statements criticizing the idea. The furor centers on the Senkaku chain located approximately 400 km from both Okinawa Island and the city of Fuzhou in China's Fujian Province. The chain consists of three reefs and five islands, the largest of which, Uotsuri, measures 3.82 sq. km. The other four islands are Kuba, Taisho, Minami Kojima and Kita Kojima. The islets are known as Diaoyu in China. For the past decade, Japan’s internal affairs ministry has paid approximately ¥24 million a year to rent Uotsuri, Minami Kojima and Kita Kojima from their owner, who resides in Saitama Prefecture. Kuba, a property held by a relative of the Saitama owner, is being rented by the Defense Ministry for an undisclosed amount. Taisho is already owned by the government.

Ishihara is contemplating the purchase of Uotsuri, Minami Kojima and Kita Kojima. A member of Japan’s Diet Upper House, Akiko Santo, a member of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, initiated the conversations with the Saitama-based landowner. She says the frequent intrusions of the islands area by Chinese vessels, including a 2010 incident between a Chinese fishing trawler and the Japan Coast Guard, spurred her to action.

Osaka’s Mayor, Toru Hashimoto, is solidly behind his fellow mayor’s actions, touting the plan and noting it "is an idea and an act that only Gov. Ishihara can come up with, something that a ordinary politician wouldn't even think of." Okinawa’s Governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, saysTokyo's ownership could help the situation in the area "stabilize." On the opposition side is Yuji Kuroiwa, Kanagawa Prefecture’s governor, who fears the action could trigger unrest between nearby countries. "I wouldn't do such a thing if I were in his position," he says.

The political ramifications of the purchase idea doesn’t sit well with either China or Taiwan. Despite the central government’s current role governing the islands, owning it may well be simply ignored by the other countries. Taiwan calls the purchase plan “unacceptable”, while China has been more harsh, describing the plan as “illegal and invalid.”

Tokyo’s governor envisions the islands as becoming a nature preserve, much as the current owner believes. Tourism could become a focus on the islands, and Ishihara thinks a fishing port could be developed. Ishihara also notes that the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East had identified significant oil reserves as possible in the Senkakus area.

Even Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is signaling the hawkish Tokyo Governor’s idea is a good one. "It is as clear as day that the Senkaku Islands are an integral part of Japan's sovereign territory in light of international law and history, and Japan effectively controls them," Noda said.

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