The central government Monday rejected a request by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to send a survey team to the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands as part of plans to purchase three of the five uninhabited islets, officials said.
The metropolitan government planned to conduct the survey on the East China Sea islets, which are also claimed by China and Taiwan, in connection with its failing plan to purchase the three largest ones.
The central government, which leases four of the Senkaku islets from private owners represented by a Saitama businessman, bans any unauthorized landings in principle. The state already owns the fifth and smallest islet, Taishojima.
Even though the metro government failed to get the state’s nod to land on the Senkakus, it still plans to send the survey party to areas just off the islets, arguing it needs to study the territory to establish the purchase price.
The central government, however, has been negotiating with the Kurihara family, which owns the islets, and has reportedly offered to buy the same three for ¥2 billion.
The metropolitan government’s request came as tensions mount following the Japan Coast Guard’s Aug. 15 seizure of Chinese activists from Hong Kong who briefly landed on the main islet of Uotsuri to assert their sovereignty. The deportation of the activists spurred anti-Japan protests in Chinese cities.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters the metropolitan government wanted to send its own survey party to the islets on Wednesday but pushed the arrival back to Friday because of a typhoon roiling the area.
Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara announced in April that the metro government intended to purchase three of the five islets, which are technically under the jurisdiction of Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture.
According to the local authority, the survey team for August would consist of 25 people, including metropolitan government officials, real-estate appraisers and ecological experts.
Tokyo still wants to present its purchase plan to the metro assembly in December with an eye to buying them next April.
The central government, meanwhile, has been in serious, behind-the-scenes talks with the Kurihara family to put the same islets — Uotsuri, Kitakojima and Minamikojima — under state control and is making an offer of about ¥2 billion.
Although members of the family had earlier said they would only entertain bids from the metropolitan government, the family has recently taken a more flexible stance on the state’s desire to buy them, the sources said.
The sources said that Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Nagahama secretly approached the Kurihara family around the end of July on orders from Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
Talks with Tokyo have stalled over price differences, the sources said, and central government officials have met several times with the family.
Earlier this month, the Kuriharas canceled a meeting with the outspoken Ishihara, a nationalist who insists the purchase will clarify the disputed isles’ ownership.
Within Noda’s government, calls have been growing since the landing of the Chinese activists that the government must bring the islets under clear state control soon.