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 Sunday, 5 January, 2003, 07:39 GMT
China protests Japan islands lease
Map of Diaoyu/Senkaku islands
China has made a formal protest to the Japanese ambassador to Beijing, Koreshige Anami, over a plan 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.

The Chinese Government and people have the unswerving determination to safeguard the country's territorial sovereignty

Wang Yi, China Vice Foreign Minister
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.

The Japanese Government is reported to have leased the three islands for about 22 million yen ($183,300) a year.

Last week, the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun said the lease was intended to block anyone landing on the islands and to prevent their sale.

Both China and Taiwan say the contract is invalid and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged Mr Anami to tell Tokyo it must give up its plan.

But the ambassador responded by saying that the islands were Japanese territory and that China's claims were groundless, China's official Xinhua news agency reported.

Troubled history

"The Chinese Government and people have the unswerving determination to safeguard the country's territorial sovereignty," Xinhua quoted Mr Wang as saying.

A Hong Kong protester stamps on a makeshift Japanese imperial flag
The islands have been a major sticking point for years
Mr Wang insisted that the islands had belonged to China since ancient times and warned that continuing with the plan could be harmful to the two countries' bilateral relations.

Japan first claimed sovereignty of the islands in 1895. They temporarily fell under United States control after World War II, but were handed back in 1972 along with Okinawa.

However, when oil was discovered near the islands in the early 1970s China and Taiwan renewed their claims on the territory.

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

The dispute escalated in 1996 when a group of Japanese right-wingers travelled to the islands and built a temporary lighthouse there to bolster the Japanese ownership claim.

See also:

03 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
24 Jun 98 | Asia-Pacific
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