September 11th, 2012
01:19 PM GMT
Japan (CNN) - They are called Senkaku by Japan, and Diaoyu by China, and these East China Sea islands are the topic of an increasingly bitter dispute between the two countries.
Both Japan and China claim the uninhabited islands, which lie between Taiwan and Okinawa and are rich in natural resources.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told CNN’s Paula Hancocks a deal is almost done to buy them from the Japanese family who owns them, and to nationalize them. The deal is reportedly worth $26 million.
“The purpose of acquiring these islands is to maintain them in a peaceful and stable manner," Noda said.
"So we would like to explain this stance to the Chinese side. Of course the Chinese side might have their own assertions, but we have a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests and we need to deepen those relations."
China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday called any unilateral moves by Japan “illegal and invalid”.
Hong Kong activists added fuel to the fire with an unauthorised visit recently, followed by Japanese politicians who also landed on the island without permission to make a political point.
Head north to the sea between Japan and South Korea and another cluster of rocky islands is souring diplomatic relations. Tokyo calls them Takeshima, Seoul calls them Dokdo.
A decades long dispute brought into recent focus by President Lee Myung-bak when he became the first South Korean president to ever visit the islands. Photographed standing next to a Korean flag, the claim of ownership could not have been clearer.
Mr Lee also said that Japan’s emperor must apologise for the country’s past colonisation of Korea if he ever wants to visit.
Mr Noda said that offended the Japanese people and it is Mr Lee who must apologise.
South Korea’s president declined CNN’s requests for interview, but both countries insist their claims of sovereignty go back for centuries.
These disputes are not just about land but what is around the land. The waters are rich fishing grounds and there is a potential for untapped gas reserves, which means these disputes go far beyond any national pride.
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