China and Taiwan angrily reacted to Japan's bid to purchase five uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said the central government is negotiating the sale of three of the islands from the current Japanese owners. It was in response to a similar plan by Tokyo's Governor Shintaro Ishihara in April.
China's foreign minister said its "holy territory is not up for sale to anyone." An editorial in the People's Daily warned that China may take more aggressive measures to protect its property. Taiwan, which also lays claims to the islands, condemned the move.
The area, which is believed to contain undersea natural gas and oil fields, has long been a bone of contention between the two countries. Aggressive moves could put the United States' commitment to Japan, through the bilateral defense treaty, to the test.
Tokyo's Governor Ishihara is undeterred by the Chinese threats. With over 16 million dollars already collected from the public, the governor, citing a distrust of the central government, is determined to complete the deal before the current yearly lease to the Japanese government runs out in March.
The Japanese owners of the islands, who live just north of Tokyos inherited the land. They have said they would never sell the islands to any individual or company. However, Japanese state ownership of the islands would escalate Chinese hostility to Japan over this issue, as would a Tokyo purchase.
It remains to be seen if the situation becomes more dangerous in the future.