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June 28, 2017

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Japan tourist island welcomes Chinese travelers despite row

TOKYO -- The governor of Japan's tourist haven island of Hokkaido said Thursday the doors were open for Chinese tourists and investors, despite frictions that have seen Beijing's warships skirting Tokyo's waters.

Harumi Takahashi said it was "impossible" for the people of Hokkaido to dislike Chinese people, even as anti-Japanese feeling remains high in China and isolated reports of physical attacks there continue to emerge.

"We welcome Chinese tourists and Chinese investment in tourism infrastructure," Takahashi told reporters. "Tourism is an important industry in Hokkaido."

Takahashi made the comments as she also said local laws aimed at regulating transactions involving forests and waterways on the island were not intended to limit purchases by foreigners.

The ordinance requires the Hokkaido government be notified three months before any transaction takes place and allows local officials to offer "advice" to the vendor.

It was introduced following a public outcry when it was revealed there had been a surge in foreign ownership of Hokkaido's forests and that many buyers were using Chinese capital.

"The ordinance was introduced to preserve Hokkaido's wealth of nature, delicious food and the openness of local residents, which Chinese people love," Takahashi said.

"It's impossible that people in Hokkaido dislike China," she added.

As of April this year, around 1,000 hectares (2500 acres) of Hokkaido's forests are owned by 57 foreigners, officials said, adding 21 are Chinese companies or individuals.

The governor's comments come days after a Chinese naval flotilla sailed through waters near Japanese islands in the latest maritime incident in months of tensions over disputed islands.

They also come the day dozens of Japanese lawmakers visited Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war dead including Class A war criminals, following a visit on Wednesday by opposition leader Shinzo Abe, which angered China and South Korea.

Takahashi said she hoped Hokkaido can "boost relations with China at a regional level at a time when country-to-country level relations are sour."

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