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Private Group Plans to Lease, Develop Diaoyu Islands

A Chinese nongovernmental organization has been registered in Hong Kong and will apply to mainland authorities for permission to develop the Diaoyu Islands.

The China Federation for Defending the Diaoyu Islands was registered with in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on November 12, 2004, according to a China Youth Daily report on Monday.

Tong Zeng, president and founder of the federation, said a meeting of the board of directors will be held soon. Tong disclosed that the federation plans to apply to the State Oceanic Administration to lease the Diaoyu Islands for tourism and exploration.

The federation will be headquartered in Beijing and has an office in Hong Kong. It intends to publish its articles of incorporation on its website at www.cfdd.org.cn.

It also plans to organize an exhibition of the islands in the coming months.

The announcement of the NGO's registration followed Japan's statement on February 9 that it had placed under government control a 5.6-meter lighthouse built on the Diaoyu Islands in 1988 by Japanese right-wing activists. Japan asserts that it has a territorial claim against the islands, which it calls the Senkakus.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Kong Quan noted at a press conference last week that the Diaoyus and neighboring islands have been part of China's territory since ancient times, and stated that any unilateral action on the part of Japan is "illegal and invalid."

The uninhabited but oil-rich islands lie between Taiwan Island and Japan.

Japan's Deputy Foreign Minister Shuzen Tanigawa stated that the builders of the lighthouse had said they could not longer maintain it and had abandoned the right of possession. Japan has assigned its Coast Guard to take over management of the structure.

"We don't feel any problem with it as the Senkaku Islands are undoubtedly our country's inherent territory historically and under international law," the Kyodo News Service quoted Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda as saying on the day the takeover was announced.

Japan asserts that the islands became part of its territory in 1895, the same year it took over Taiwan.

Last March, Japanese authorities arrested and deported seven Chinese activists after they went to the islands, causing a diplomatic row with Beijing. The activists were the first people to land on the islands since 1996.

Relations between Japan and China have been increasingly strained in recent months, in part over disputes about the nearby gas field where Beijing began drilling in 2003 despite Tokyo's protests.

Last December, Japan for the first time listed China as a potential threat in revised defense guidelines.

For its part, China has repeatedly voiced protests over Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's annual visits to Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japanese war dead, including Class A war criminals. China has refused all bilateral state visits because of the pilgrimages.

The Japanese premier has defended his visits but has not gone to the shrine this year.

(China Daily February 21, 2005)

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