Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced on July 7 a government plan to buy three of the Senkaku Islands’ five main islands in the East China Sea. The possibility cannot be ruled out that Mr. Noda is using the islands’ purchase plan to help buoy his approval rating, since he is suffering from a split within the Democratic Party of Japan over his plan to raise the consumption tax.

Historically and legally, it is clear that the islands are an integral part of Japanese territories. Japan has effective rule over them. Still, Mr. Noda’s plan is likely to cause friction with China and Taiwan, both of which claim the islands. One wonders whether Mr. Noda has a clear idea of how to contain such friction. He must handle the Senkaku issue carefully.

Currently, the central government owns Taisho Island, one of the five main islands of the Senkaku Islands. The four other islands are owned privately and the central government is leasing them from the owners.

In January 1895, Japan declared the Senkaku Islands as part of Okinawa Prefecture after confirming that they were not ruled by what was then China’s Qing Dynasty. The Senkakus were not among the islands — Taiwan and the Penghus — that China ceded to Japan under the Shimonoseki Treaty signed by Japan and China after the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95. The treaty took effect in May 1895. Under the San Francisco Treaty of September 1951, the Senkakus were placed under U.S. administrative authority as part of Japan’s Nansei Islands. In 1972, the islands were returned to Japan as part of Okinawa Prefecture. China began to claim the islands after it became known in the latter half of the 1960s that the seabed around the islands is rich in natural resources.

In April, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara announced a plan under which the Tokyo Metropolitan Government would buy Uotsuri Island, Kita Kojima Island and Minami Kojima Island — three of the four privately owned islands of the Senkakus. If the metropolitan government buys the islands, it will not have the diplomatic means to quell possible friction with China and Taiwan.

Mr. Noda’s plan is to buy these islands from the landowner. Such a purchase would make for more stable control of the islands. But Gov. Ishihara said the Tokyo Metropolitan Government would first buy the islands. The central and metropolitan governments should avoid an internal dispute over the purchase plan, which would weaken Japan’s international position.

Whatever the results of the purchase negotiations, Japan should refrain from provocative actions as well as sincerely explain to China that provocative actions on its part won’t help constructive bilateral relations.

On July 11 and 12, three Chinese vessels violated Japanese territorial waters near the Senkakus. China should realize that these kinds of activities will only aggravate the bilateral relations.

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