Japan on Wednesday took over a lighthouse built by a
right-wing political group on a disputed island also
claimed by China and Taiwan in a move that could be seen
as an attempt by Tokyo to strengthen its claim to the
Cabinet Office official Hiroshi Inomata said the move
was not politically motivated. The islands, called
Senkaku by Japanese and Diaoyu by the Chinese, are
controlled by Japan.
"The government understands the usefulness of the
lighthouse," Inomata said. "Landing on the island has
been banned, and it would be best if the structure
becomes publicly owned."
Beijing criticized Tokyo's move in a statement
distributed by the official Xinhua New Agency.
"The Diaoyu islands and surrounding islands are
sovereign Chinese territory," said Kong Kuan, chief
spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry. "The actions
taken by Japan are all illegal and invalid."
The islands â€” ceded to Japan by China in an 1895 war â€”
lie in the East China Sea between Taiwan and Japan. They
are surrounded by rich fishing waters, and are a
frequent source of friction between the nations.
China and Taiwan say their claims to the islands date
back centuries â€” assertions that have long riled
Japanese right-wing extremists. Chinese and Japanese
nationalist groups have both made trips to the islands
to protest the claims by the other side.
The Tokyo-based group Nihon Seinen Sha built the
lighthouse on Uotsuri island in 1988 as a symbol of
Japan's stake in the territory.
The ownership of the structure, which had since been
transferred to a group of local fishermen, was passed to
the government without charge, Inomata said. He said the
Coast Guard would now be in charge of maintaining the
Taiwan saw the change in ownership as potentially
"If the Japanese government takes over management of the
lighthouse, that means there is more hope for a
reasonable attitude in (eventual) talks," Foreign
Ministry spokesman Michel Ching-long Lu told The
Lu said Taiwan still maintained its claims of
sovereignty over the islands and saw talks as the only
way to solve the dispute.
Japanese activists had regularly traveled to the remote
islands to change light bulbs and maintain the
structure, but each expedition prompted criticism from
China and Taiwan.
Chinese activists have also traveled to the islands to
claim what they consider their territorial rights, but
Japan arrested and deported them.
In April 2004, the Japanese government barred access to
the islands, including to Japanese citizens, to avoid