Japan formally announced on Monday a decision to buy three of the five disputed Senkaku islands, called Diaoyu in China, from the Kurihara family for 2.05 billion yen ($26.1 million).
“The Chinese government solemnly announces that the attempt to purchase the islands is absolutely illegal and invalid,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement early on Tuesday.
“It can never change the historical facts of Japan’s aggression and occupation of Chinese territory and China’s sovereignty on the Diaoyu Islands and its affiliated islets,” the statement said, adding that Japan will be fully responsible for any serious consequences caused by its unilateral action.
The disputed islands in the East China Sea, which are also claimed by Taiwan, lie on a vital shipping route and are surrounded by large hydrocarbon deposits beneath them.
Japan says it has controlled the islands since 1895 until its surrender at the end of World War II. The islands were controlled by the United States from 1945 to 1972 and subsequently returned to Japan’s control. China claims the islands’ discovery and control since the 14th century.
China and Taiwan started to lay claims on the islands in the 1970s when surveys showed the area was rich in hydrocarbons.
Tensions flared between Tokyo and Beijing, after Japan arrested last month 14 Chinese nationals, including activists from Hong Kong, and deported them over a protest landing on Uotsuri, the largest of a group of disputed isles.