Japan wants to buy the Senkaku islands, at the center of a bitter territorial dispute with China and Taiwan, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda reportedly said Saturday.
Beijing and Taipei also both claim the islands in the East China Sea, which the Chinese call Diaoyu.
Agence France-Presse quoted Noda as saying:
"There is no question that the Senkakus are an integral part of our country's territory in terms of history and international law.
"There exists no territorial issue or ownership issue as Japan is in effective control of the islands.
"From the viewpoint of how to maintain and manage the Senkakus in a calm and stable manner, we are making comprehensive studies on the matter by keeping in touch with the owner."
According to the Japan Times, the national government had approached the islands' private owners, the Kurihara family, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which announced its own plan to purchase Uotsuri, the largest of the islets, as well as nearby Kitakojima and Minamikojima.
The Times quoted Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara as saying: "I responded that Tokyo will first buy them considering the owner's circumstances."
The Asahi Shimbun wrote that Ishihara had also used the opportunity to criticize the unpopular Noda administration, and that the owner had told him the isles would only be sold to Tokyo, with no plan to negotiate with the central government.
"They are only doing it to gain popularity," he told reporters.
"They are making these comments now because the administration is struggling. I have been told through an intermediary that the owner said 'not to worry because I have no intention of selling it to the central government.'"
According to AFP, the island chain, inhabited by Japanese fishermen before the end of World War II, lies in rich fishing grounds and may also contain valuable mineral reserves.
However, Japan has taken little action to exerting sovereignty over the islands for fear of damaging relations with China.
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