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 Friday, 3 January, 2003, 10:21 GMT
Row over Japan's islands claim
China and Taiwan have condemned a move by Japan to assert sovereignty over three disputed islands by renting them from a private owner.

The tiny islands are among five uninhabited islands known in Japanese as the Senkaku islands and by China and Taiwan as the Diaoyu islands.

Japan's unilateral action on the Diaoyu islands is invalid

Zhang Qiyue, Chinese foreign ministry
The islands, which lie between Taiwan and the southern Japanese islands of Okinawa, in the East China Sea, are claimed by all three countries and are believed to be rich in oil resources.

A protester stamps on a makeshift Japanese imperial flag as a group stages a demonstration ouside the Japanese consulate in Hong Kong
Groups in Hong Kong and Taipei plan a string of protests
Japanese media reported earlier this week that the Japanese Government had rented three of the islands at a cost of about 22 million yen ($183,300) a year.

The daily Yomiuri Shimbun said the lease was intended to block anyone landing on the islands and to prevent their sale.

But China and Taiwan said the contract was unacceptable as they held historic title to the chain going back hundreds of years.

"Japan's unilateral action on the Diaoyu islands is invalid," said a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue.

Oil deposits

In Taiwan, some MPs have called for their government to take the dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

"There are only two ways to settle the dispute," said Chien Lin Whei-jun of the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union. "One is for Taiwan to send troops to take the islands back.

"But are we capable of doing this? Another way is to seek a ruling from the international court on who has sovereignty over the islands."

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Wednesday that Japan had in October registered its rental of the three islands from a private owner, and that it planned to renew the contract after the current lease expires at the end of March.

Japan claimed the islands in 1895 and sold the islands to descendents of the original settlers in 1932. The islands were temporarily put under US control after World War II, but returned to Japanese rule in 1972 together with Okinawa.

The territorial dispute with China and Taiwan came to the fore in the 1970s when a United Nations agency found there were oil deposits in the area.

See also:

24 Jun 98 | Asia-Pacific
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