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Beijing disputes Japan's islands claim

By Willy Wo-Lap Lam
CNN Senior China Analyst

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

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(CNN) -- Beijing has protested Tokyo's move to assert sovereignty over the disputed Senkaku islands, known as the Diaoyu in China, by renting three of the islets from their private owner.

Zhang Qiyue, a spokeswoman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the Diaoyu archipelago had been Chinese territory from ancient times.

"Any unilateral action that Japan has taken toward these islands is not valid," the official press on Friday quoted Zhang as saying.

The Japanese media reported earlier this week that the Japanese government had rented three islands of the Senkaku chain at a cost of $188,300 a year in an apparent attempt to boost Tokyo's claim over the territory.

The islands, located between Taiwan and Okinawa, are believed to be rich in oil resources.

Renewal plans

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that Tokyo had begun renting the islands in April 2002, and it planned to renew the contract after the current lease expires at the end of March.

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.

Taiwan, another claimant to the islands, has also raised strong objections to Tokyo's move.

The Vice-Minister of Defense Chen Chao-ming told the Taiwan legislature on Thursday that "the government will try to revolve the [territorial] dispute through peaceful means."

"Nobody wants to start a war," Chen said. "Yet if war is inevitable, the national army will certainly safeguard the nation's territorial integrity."

The Taipei media reported that Taiwanese fishing boats had on numerous occasions been barred from the Senkaku islands by Japanese coast guard vessels.

Several non-government organizations in Hong Kong and Taipei have indicated plans to stage protests outside the Japanese missions in the two cities.

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