Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, who has a reputation for making nationalistic and controversial statements, has done it again.
This time the 79-year-old politician says he wants to use public funds to buy three of the islands at the center of a long-running and bitter territorial dispute with China – comments that are sure to infuriate Beijing, according to the BBC.
In a speech to a Washington think tank on Monday, Ishihara said he wanted to buy Uotsurishima, Kita-Kojima and Minami-Kojima in the East China Sea, which are part of the island chain called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, the Asahi Shimbun reported.
"Who dares to complain about Japanese nationals trying to defend Japan's soil?" the governor said, according to the Asahi Shimbun.
"China has embarked on radical movements in an attempt to knock down Japan's effective control on the Senkaku Islands. That's scandalous.”
The provocative remarks drew a strong response from Beijing, with foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin saying any unilateral action by Japan would be illegal, the Economic Times reported, citing an official Xinhua news agency dispatch.
"The Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islands have been part of China's territory since ancient times and China has indisputable sovereignty over them," Liu was quoted as saying.
The islands, which are also claimed by Taiwan, are located in an area close to key shipping lanes and are surrounded by potentially rich gas deposits.
Ishihara said he has received the green light from an individual landowner to buy the islands and plans to submit a proposal to the Tokyo Metropolitan government, which has confirmed the plan, Reuters said.
Ishihara has a reputation for stirring up Beijing with his ultra-nationalistic comments, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Earlier this year he backed remarks by Nagoya mayor Takashi Kawamura, who said the Nanjing Massacre of 1937 never happened.
Ishihara’s comments are certain to erode efforts by Tokyo and Beijing to repair relations this year, which marks the 40th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties.
Relations between the two neighbors were seriously strained in 2010 when a Chinese fishing boat captain was detained following a collision with a Japanese coastguard vessel near the disputed islands.