• Kyodo

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The city of Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture, which has jurisdiction over the Senkaku Islands, is considering conducting environmental research this summer on the disputed islets from the air using a chartered aircraft, sources said Monday.

The research to study the environment and ecosystem of the uninhabited islets is intended to demonstrate that they belong to Japan despite Chinese claims to the contrary, the sources said.

China unilaterally established an air defense identification zone above the East China Sea and the Senkakus last November, so the city plans to consult with central government bodies to ensure that the project can be conducted safety, the sources said.

Some government officials remain wary, with one source at the prime minister’s office saying that “the move could give a false impression to neighboring countries that Japan is unilaterally heightening tension in the region.”

In October 2010, Ishigaki Mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama sought central government approval to land on the disputed islets for research purposes, but officials rejected the request, saying the Senkakus should be maintained and managed “quietly and stably.”

Some environmental problems have been observed on the islets, such as soil erosion caused by the foraging of a large number of goats.

The city has earmarked ¥30 million this fiscal year to pay for the aerial environmental assessment.

A contractor will be selected by the end of this month to start the research as early as August, the sources said. The city intends to study the plan cautiously with the government to avoid touching off a crisis.

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