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September 26, 2017

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Japan deal to purchase Tiaoyutais incurs fury from mainland China

TOKYO/BEIJING -- Japan has agreed to buy a group of islands disputed with China from their private owners, a government official said on Monday, prompting an angry rebuke from China a day after Chinese President Hu Jintao warned against such an "illegal" move.

Japan aimed to nationalize the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea as soon as possible to control them in a peaceful and stable manner, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said.

"During the ministerial meeting today, we agreed that we will obtain the ownership of the three Senkaku islands as quickly as possible," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters.

The islands, called Senkaku in Japan, Diaoyu in China and Tiaoyutai Islands in Taiwan are near rich fishing grounds and potentially huge maritime gas fields and have been at the heart of long-running territorial disputes between the world's second and third-largest economies.

Tension flared anew last month when Japan detained a group of Chinese activists who landed on the islands. But the row may now be having an economic impact, intensifying from merely an exchange of rhetoric, with a Chinese official saying Japanese car sales may have been hit in the world's biggest auto market.

"This is just the ownership of land, which is part of Japan's territory, moving from one (private) owner to the state, and should not cause any problem with other countries," Fujimura said.

"Having said that, we don't want the Senkaku issue to affect overall Sino-Japanese relations. Because it is important to avoid misunderstanding and unforeseen development, we have been closely communicating with China through diplomatic channels to this day."

But China was firm in its opposition to what it saw as a "political trend."

"This is a serious infringement of China's sovereignty and has seriously hurt the feelings of 1.3 billion Chinese," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "The Chinese government and people express their resolute opposition and protest strongly."

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi called in Japanese Ambassador Uichiro Niwa to lodge a strong protest, while state-run Xinhua news agency cited Premier Wen Jiabao as saying China would "never yield an inch" of territory.

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