China and Taiwan angrily reacted to Japan’s bid to purchase five uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said the central government is negotiating the sale of three of the islands from the current Japanese owners. It was in response to a similar plan by Tokyo’s Governor Shintaro Ishihara in April.
China’s foreign minister said its “holy territory is not up for sale to anyone.” An editorial in the People’s Daily warned that China may take more aggressive measures to protect its property. Taiwan, which also lays claims to the islands, condemned the move.
“Japan should not cave in to any of these threats by China,” Koichiro Yoshida, vice president of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly and ruling Democratic Party of Japan member. “The islands belong to us, and we need take a firm stance toward China. The United States also needs to come in on our side and stand by us, because of our treaty with them. If they don’t abide by the treaty, we would have to regard the treaty as broken.”
The area, which is believed to contain undersea natural gas and oil fields, has long been a bone of contention between the two countries. Aggressive moves could put the United States’ commitment to Japan, through the bilateral defense treaty, to the test.
“We have to see how the United States will react to this situation,” Yosida said. “The problem won’t escalate if we are resolute, but if we simply smile at the Chinese, the situation will escalate.”
Tokyo’s Governor Ishihara is undeterred by the Chinese threats. With over 16 million dollars already collected from the public, the governor, citing a distrust of the central government, is determined to complete the deal before the current yearly lease to the Japanese government runs out in March.
The Japanese owners of the islands, who live just north of Tokyo inherited the land. They have said they would never sell the islands to any individual or company. However, Japanese state ownership of the islands would escalate Chinese hostility to Japan over this issue, as would a Tokyo purchase.
It remains to be seen if the situation becomes more dangerous in the future.