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Japan buys disputed islands, China sends patrol ships

TOKYO -- Japan brushed off stern warnings by China on Tuesday and bought a group of islands that both sides claim in a growing dispute that threatens to deepen strains between Asia's two biggest economies.

Public broadcaster NHK said the government and the family signed a deal Tuesday.

China rained warnings on Japan in the wake of the island purchase announcement and official media said Beijing had sent two patrol ships to reassert its claim.

The Chinese military's top newspaper accused Japan of “playing with fire,” and the Ministry of Defense warned that more, unspecified steps could follow.

Beijing's anger has been accompanied by heated reporting in China's state media. Reactions to Japanese actions are sometimes overstated in China, and a commentator in the People's Liberation Army Daily, the main newspaper of China's military, called Japan's move “the most blatant challenge to China's sovereignty since the end of World War II.” China on Tuesday also started broadcasting a daily marine weather report for the islands.

“The Chinese military expresses its staunch opposition and strong protest over this,” Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said in remarks posted on the ministry's website (www.mod.gov.cn).

“The Chinese government and military are unwavering in their determination and will to defend national territorial sovereignty. We are closely following developments, and reserve the power to adopt corresponding measures.”

Tokyo insisted it had only peaceful intentions in making the 2.05 billion yen (US$26.18 million) purchase of three uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, until now leased by the government from a Japanese family that has owned them since early 1970s.

The central government does not plan to develop the islands.

Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba repeated Japan's line that the purchase served “peaceful and stable maintenance of the islands.”

“We cannot damage the stable development of the Japan-China relationship because of that issue. Both nations need to act calmly and from a broad perspective,” he told reporters.

The Japanese Coast Guard will administer the islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, which are near rich fishing grounds and potentially huge maritime gas fields.

Geng accused Japan of “using all kinds of excuses to expand its armaments, and repeatedly creating regional tensions.”

Beijing has avoided sending military forces into disputed seas at the heart of quarrels with neighbors, including Japan, instead using civilian government vessels to stake its claims.

China's Xinhua News Agency reported that two China Marine Surveillance (CMS) vessels reached the waters around the islets on Tuesday morning. The government force is in charge of enforcing law and order in China's waters, but operates separately from the navy.

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Chinese security personnel try to stop a Chinese man as he prepares to burn the Japanese national flag outside the Japan Embassy in Beijing, China, Tuesday, Sept. 11. (AP)

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