Following a request by the central government, the city of Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture, has agreed to call off an aerial survey of the Senkaku Islands, which fall under its jurisdiction, according to sources.
The government has been trying to improve relations with China, which claims the islets and calls them Diaoyu.
Ishigaki authorities had planned to carry out the environmental survey before the end of this month using chartered civilian aircraft.
Previously, the central government refused to grant permission to Ishigaki authorities to go ashore on the islets for an environmental survey in 2010, when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power.
Pulling the plug on the aerial survey came about despite previous statements by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the islets and the airspace above them are under Japan’s control.
China established an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea, including the Senkakus, in November 2013, warning that it would scramble fighter jets if any aircraft enter the zone without submitting a flight plan.
According to the sources, a high-ranking official in the Environment Ministry called Ishigaki Mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama to Tokyo on Dec. 15 to request he call off the survey, saying it “could lead to unforeseen events.”
The ministry doesn’t have the authority to order local officials to not conduct such a survey, but the city agreed to call it off out of respect for the central government, which ultimately controls the Senkaku Islands, the sources said.
When Ishigaki authorities decided to carry out the survey, they planned to have specialists photograph the islets from a chartered plane.