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Rented islands strain Sino-Japanese relations

Staff and wires

Coast guard
Since the mid-1990s, Japanese coast guard vessels have turned away Chinese and Taiwanese fishing boats from the area

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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Sino-Japanese relations may be further strained by a new flare-up in sovereignty disputes over the Senkaku islands, known as the Diaoyu in China.

Tokyo's mass-circulation Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the Japanese government rented three tiny islands in the archipelago from their private owner in an apparent effort to boost Tokyo's claim over the territories.

The five-island chain, which is located between Taiwan and Okinawa, is claimed by the governments of Japan, China and Taiwan.

They sit among rich fishing waters and are also believed to be rich in oil resources.

Yomiuri reported that Tokyo began renting the islands in April 2002 after signing an $188,300 one-year contract with the owner, and the Japanese government plans to renew its contract after the current lease expires at the end of March.

"The Senkaku islands are an integral part of Japanese territory," the paper quoted a Japanese government source as saying. "We'll stick to this position firmly."

Control

Japan claimed the archipelago in 1895, and sold the islands to descendants of the original settlers in 1932. The U.S. administered them after World War II, but turned over control to Japan in 1972.

By renting the islands -- known as Kita Kojima, Minami Kojima and Uotsurijima -- Japan hopes to keep their Japanese owner, Yukihiro Kurihara from selling them, the Yomiuri reported.

Since the mid-1990s, Japanese coast guard vessels have turned away Chinese and Taiwanese fishing boats from the area.

The Chinese government has not yet responded to the Yomiuri story.

However, the official China Youth Daily reported on Thursday that the Diaoyu islands had always been Chinese territory and that "extremists" among right-wing politicians in Japan had schemed to assert de facto control over the territory.

In Hong Kong, a spokesman for the Protect the Diaoyu Islands Committee said the Japanese government's renting of the territory was even worse than actions such as rightist politicians planting flags on the islets.

"We must stage a strong protest," he said. "Otherwise, the Japanese government may take further action [to stake their claim]."

Strained relations

Relations between China and Japan have been strained over issues ranging from trade disputes to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine early last year.

A Beijing visit by Koizumi to mark the 30th anniversary of the normalization of bilateral ties, originally planned for late 2002, has been postponed.



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