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September 22, 2017

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Japan to buy three disputed islands for US$26 mil.

TOKYO -- Japan's government has agreed to buy islands at the center of a territorial row with China, reports said Wednesday, as it tries to both placate nationalists and prevent ties with Beijing deteriorating further.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has been pushed into the deal after a canny move by the right-wing governor of Tokyo who said he wanted to purchase them to protect them from Chinese claims of ownership.

Beijing's response to the reports was muted, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying China was monitoring the situation and would "take necessary measures to defend its national territorial sovereignty."

Tokyo will pay private Japanese landowners 2.05 billion yen (US$26 million) for three of the islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, the Yomiuri Shimbun and Kyodo News reported, citing unnamed government sources.

Deputy Chief Cabinet secretary Hiroyuki Nagahama met the landowners on Monday and struck the deal, which includes Uotsurijima, the largest in the chain, both outlets said.

Contracts are expected to be signed next week, the Nikkei newspaper said.

At a news conference Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura refused to confirm the reports, but said negotiations were under way.

"We are exchanging views with the landowners in various ways, but that process is ongoing," he said.

"We cannot comment on the contents at all. As a government, we will make a firm announcement after procedures are appropriately completed."

Noda plans to formally tell the Chinese about the purchase on the sidelines of the U.N. assembly later this month, the Asahi Shimbun said, but a Japan-China summit has not yet been set.

Four of the islands in the remote, but strategically coveted archipelago, are owned by the Kurihara family, who bought them in the 1970s and 80s. The government already owns the fifth.

The original Japanese owner had established factories processing bonito fish and albatross feathers on one of the islands, which were abandoned during World War II and then came under U.S. control until 1972.

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