China has sent patrol boats to the vicinity of a group of disputed islands to assert its "undisputed sovereignty" against a move by Japan to nationalize the chain claimed by both countries, Chinese state media says.
What the Japanese call the Senkaku Islands and the Chinese refer to as the Diaoyu Islands, located in the East China Sea, are just a few of the several uninhabited chains scattered throughout the region that are caught up in territorial disputes between Beijing and its maritime neighbors. Last week, NPR did a thorough primer on the controversy.
In a provocative move Tuesday, Japan nationalized the Senkaku chain, which it has controlled for 40 years, and approved the purchase of the islands from a private Japanese owner for $26.2 million, according to The Washington Post.
The newspaper reports:
"The purchase, one [Japanese] government spokesman said Tuesday, will ensure 'stable peace and maintenance' of the land, which is also claimed by Taiwan. The uninhabited islands are significant because they occupy precious shipping lanes and may contain oil deposits.
" 'It's important to avoid any misunderstanding by the Chinese government,' the spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, said."
NPR's Louisa Lim, reporting from Beijing, says Tokyo was forewarned that the move would be considered a provocation.
In an editorial, China's official news agency Xinhua blasted Japan's move as "ridiculous and absurd" and an "open provocation."
The ships dispatched to the islands are from the China Marine Surveillance, a Coast Guard-like force tasked with enforcing Beijing's territorial claims at sea. (see embedded video).
As we noted in our primer last week, no one expects these disputes to erupt into a shooting war in the near term, but they remain a worrisome source of contention. The islands could have enormous economic value if undersea oil and gas deposits near them can be tapped.