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Reports: Japan to buy East China Sea islands

Japan will buy islets in the disputed East China Sea, local media have reported. Meanwhile, the US and China have tried to paper over the cracks in their relationship caused by conflicting views on the territory.

Japanese media on Wednesday said that the country's government had agreed to buy a group of islets at the center of a longstanding territorial dispute with China in the East China Sea.

The Japanese government will pay the private Japanese owners of the islands 2.05 billion yen ($26.1 million, 20.8 million euros) for three of them, which are known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper and the Kyodo News. The media outlets cited anonymous government sources.

At a news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura did not confirm the reports, but he said that negotiations were taking place.

"We are exchanging views with the landowners in various ways, but that process is ongoing," Fujimura said. "We cannot comment on the contents at all. As a government, we will make a firm announcement after procedures are appropriately completed."

China's President Hu Jintao (R) shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Reuters

Clinton's multilateral approach to the South China Sea dispute was cooly received in Beijing

If the reports are true, they are likely to rattle Beijing, which claims ownership of much of the East and South China Seas, including the Spratly and Paracel islands. The Chinese stance has created much tension between the country and its Southeastern neighbors, including Vietnam and the Philippines.

China and the US try and hold it together

The reports in the Japanese press came on the same day that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was visiting Beijing for talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. At a press conference following their meeting on Wednesday, both sides averred their mutual goodwill.

"I'm very proud of the strength and resilience that we have built into our relationship," Clinton said after talks with Yang at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

"It makes it possible for us to talk about anything, and to find ways to tackle issues frankly and forthrightly," she said, adding that the two sides would not agree on all the issues that defined their extensive relationship.

Yang's comments at the media briefing were similarly framed.

"We hope that China and the United States will work together to develop a positive and pragmatic relationship," he said, standing next to Clinton.

The emphasis on warm relations between the two sides came after China criticized Clinton's calls for a multilateral solution to the territorial problem earlier in the week.

In Jakarta on Monday, Clinton had pressed China and Southeast Asian nations to agree on a code of conduct for the area. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei had, in turn, on Tuesday indicated that Clinton's ideas would face some resistance during talks with President Hu, the foreign minister and other top officials.

sej / msh (AFP, Reuters)