The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is in negotiations with the owners of the disputed Senkaku Islands with the aim of buying them by the end of this year, Gov. Shintaro Ishihara said.

Speaking at a think tank forum while visiting Washington, Ishihara said Monday local time that the purchase is aimed at protecting Japanese territory, an apparent reference to China's claim to the islands. Situated in the East China Sea, they are under the administrative control of Japan.

The sudden announcement by the outspoken and hawkish governor will inevitably draw criticism from China, which has been trying to expand its influence in the area near the disputed islands, and trigger further friction between the two nations.