• Kyodo

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A group of Hong Kong activists on Thursday demanded that Japan immediately end its lease of three disputed islands in the East China Sea and burned a paper Japanese flag to show their outrage.

“Japan, Get Out of Diaoyu Islands!” chanted some 15 protesters as they set the paper flag alight outside the building where the Japanese Consulate General is located.

The protesters said they were angry that Japan, as reported by a major Japanese daily on Wednesday, has tried to strengthen its control over what it calls the Senkaku Islands by concluding a contract to lease three of the five isles from a private owner.

The islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Tiaoyutai in Taiwan, are located between Taiwan and Okinawa. Japan, China and Taiwan all claim sovereignty over the uninhabited isles.

“Japan must immediately retreat from the Diaoyu Islands. Japan must apologize,” the Hong Kong protesters said in a protest letter to the Japanese government. “If South Korea and Russia use the same fallacy to respectively lease the Takeshima Island and the Northern Territories from private owners, how will the Japanese government feel about that?”

Japan is involved in two other territorial disputes, one with South Korea over the South Korean-controlled island of Takeshima off Shimane Prefecture, known as Tok-do in South Korea, and the other with Russia over four Russian-occupied islands off northeastern Hokkaido, which Japan calls its Northern Territories and Russia regards as its Southern Kurils.

The Hong Kong protesters urged the Chinese government to take up the matter with Japan.

On Wednesday, the mass-circulation Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the Japanese government has concluded a contract to lease the three islands for the period between April 1, 2002, and March 31, 2003, from a man living outside Okinawa Prefecture for 22.56 million yen, and has registered its right as the leaseholder of the islands.

Having the islands of Uotsurishima, Minami-Kojima and Kita-Kojima on leasehold will reportedly enable the government to prevent their resale to third parties and block individuals or groups from landing there.

Japan has previously been criticized by China and Taiwan for allowing a rightwing group to erect a lighthouse and a Diet member to land on one of the islands.

Japan claimed the islands as its territory in 1895. They were temporarily put under U.S. control after World War II but were returned to Japanese rule in 1972 when the United States returned Okinawa to Japan.

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