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Japan's national government has refused a request from the Tokyo Metropolitan government to land on the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, a move observers said has revealed Japan's desire to ease tensions and change its strategy on the island dispute.
The Tokyo government on Wednesday sought landing permission to send a team to conduct a "pre-purchase survey", but the Japanese central government rejected the move because it would create problems with China, Kyodo News reported on Monday.
Ever since Shintaro Ishihara, the hawkish Tokyo governor, proposed the purchase idea in April to clarify the so-called Japanese ownership, Japan's top government officials and senior lawmakers have continued to enflame the diplomatically sensitive situation, affecting Sino-Japanese ties and regional stability.
"Ishihara proposed the purchase plan and stirred up the passion of conservatives to realize his individual political ambition, but he has made the Diaoyu Islands a power keg between China and Japan," Xu Jingbo, president of Japan's Asia News Agency said, adding that the reckless "bosozoku-like" Tokyo governor increased numerous uncertainties of the Diaoyu Islands dispute.
Kyodo News also reported that sources revealed on Sunday that Japan's central government is "engaged in serious behind-the-scenes talks" with the Kurihara family, which claims the Diaoyu Islands are theirs.
The Japanese government has offered 2 billion yen ($25.4 million) to bring the Diaoyu Islands under so-called state control by next month and members of the Kurihara family have shown interest, different from their earlier stance claiming they would only deal with Tokyo.
Xu said the Japanese government has always emphasized it has a leasing agreement with the Kurihara family and forbids landing and construction to avoid provocation against China.
"What Japan most wants to avoid is all-out confrontation with China," Xu said.
But Feng Wei, an expert in Japanese studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said the refusal served as a cover-up of the Japanese government's desire to promote the purchase plan and turn control into occupation.
"Japan is adjusting its strategies. Its joint drill with the US for island defense has demonstrated the adjustment is not because of fear but because of greater ambition to nationalize the islands."
Japan has shown little intention of avoiding further tensions with China.
Purchase proposals from both Tokyo and Japan's central government have already created friction with China.
Furthermore, the Japanese parliament on Friday passed two symbolic resolutions asserting Japan's sovereignty over both island groups that are disputed by both Beijing and Seoul.
Yoshihiko Noda, Japan's prime minister, said at a news conference on Friday that Japan will strengthen measures to secure its surrounding waters, a remark that asserts his country's territorial claims and is unlikely to ease rising diplomatic tensions between Japan and its two neighboring countries.