• Kyodo

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The Chinese Foreign Ministry lodged a direct protest early Sunday against Japan’s leasing of land on three of the five Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China and Taiwan, Japanese officials said.

In a phone call to Japan’s ambassador to China, Koreshige Anami, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged him to convey to Tokyo that it must correct its action. He said the unilateral step taken by Japan is illegal, void and unacceptable to China, the officials said.

Wang also told Anami that correcting the situation was important for maintaining friendly diplomatic ties, they said.

Anami responded that the Senkaku Islands are Japanese territory and that China’s claims are groundless, and therefore Japan cannot heed the request.

On Friday, Cheng Yonghua, deputy director general of the Asian Affairs Department, filed a protest over the lease with an official at the Japanese Embassy in Beijing. China’s move to directly lodge the complaint with the ambassador indicates that it is stepping up its protest.

The government registered its one-year lease of Uotsurishima, Minami-Kojima and Kita-Kojima islands in October, retroactively from April 1, 2002. The uninhabited islands are owned by a Japanese citizen, according to registration records in Japan.

Sources said the government intends to renew the 22 million yen contract this year.

The move has sparked protests from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The disputed Senkaku Islands are located in the East China Sea between Taiwan and Okinawa. They are known as the Pinnacle Islands in English, while China refers to them as Diaoyu and Taiwan calls them Tiaoyutai.

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

Japan claimed the islands in 1895 and they were temporarily put under U.S. control after World War II. They were returned to Japanese rule in 1972 when the U.S. returned Okinawa to Japan.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry earlier said the lease was intended for the “effective use of national land.” There is speculation, however, that the government intends to keep the land under its control to prevent its sale to a third party.

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