Japan eyes satellite research for disputed isles in East China Sea

Japan is looking into using satellite images to further research on the natural environment of islets in the East China Sea claimed by China, the top government spokesman said, though the plans will not involve anyone actually setting foot there.

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TOKYO, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Japan is looking into using satellite images to further research on the natural environment of islets in the East China Sea claimed by China, the top government spokesman said, though the plans will not involve anyone actually setting foot there.

Japan's ties with China have long been plagued by a territorial row over the uninhabited islands controlled by Tokyo, which are known as the Senkaku in Japan, but called Diaoyu in China.

"The Environment Ministry is considering conducting research into the natural environment of the Senkaku islands as early as by the end of the year," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a regular news conference.

"That will be part of the ministry's nationwide research ... and will be carried out using the latest satellite images."

Later, a ministry official told Reuters the research would not involve anyone setting foot on the islands.

The announcement comes after two Chinese government ships stayed in what Japan considers its territorial waters around the islands for more than 57 hours this week.

That was the longest such operation since Japan nationalised part of the islands in 2012, spurring Tokyo to lodge protests against Beijing.

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

((kiyoshi.takenaka@thomsonreuters.com; +81 3 4563 2788;))

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