BEIJING, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- China said it will survey the disputed Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea to "safeguard China's marine rights," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
The survey of the islands -- known as the Senkaku Islands by Japan which administers them -- will be part of a larger project of island and reef mapping started in 2009, spokesman Hong Lei told reporters, a state-run Xinhua news agency report said.
"Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islets have been the inherent territory of China since ancient times," said Hong.
The National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation has completed mapping of islands within 60 miles of China's coastline and will start on territories further afield which include the Diaoyu, also claimed by Taiwan.
China has maintained the Diaoyu, which lie around 100 miles north of Japan's Ishigaki Island and 116 miles northeast of Taiwan, are its territory since international treaties in the late 1800s.
At the end of World War II in 1945 the islands were under U.S. jurisdiction as part of the captured Japanese island of Okinawa. Japan has administered them since 1972 when Okinawa was returned to Japan.
Tensions flared between Beijing and Tokyo in September after the Japanese government bought three of the islands from a private Japanese owner, triggering public protests in Chinese cities.
Since then China has stepped up naval incursions and patrols around the islands for which Japan has lodged formal diplomatic complaints.
Hong also said that China and Japan continue to discuss at various diplomatic levels and through informal channels possible settlements to settle the dispute.
The Xinhua report said Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying had discussed China-Japan relations with visiting former Japanese Education Minister Kenji Kosaka, who is a member of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Fu reportedly acknowledged that relations are facing difficult situations and welcomed efforts from Japanese communities to improve perceptions and communications between the two governments.
This week Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said strengthening ties with the United States is a "priority," a report by Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun said.
"Reviewing the right to collective self-defense is one of the administration's central policy aims, and because of that I want to discuss it with President (Barack) Obama," Abe told the Japan Broadcasting Corp.
Japanese-U.S. collective self-defense is important in the region because it could be enacted if claims over islands such as the Diaoyu come to a military confrontation.
Abe took office in late December after winning an election that catapulted his Liberal Democratic Party back into power in the lower assembly, the House of Representatives.
In one of his first public speeches he said Pacific maritime security would be high on the agenda when he meets Obama.
Abe was speaking soon after China flew a light aircraft low over the Diaoyu Islands into airspace claimed by Japan -- the first such incident since Japan started monitoring the island and airspace in the late 1950s.
Among China's other maritime claims is that with the Philippines over the Huangyan Island, or Scarborough Shoal by Manila, in the South China Sea.
The shoal is more than 400 miles off the Chinese coast but 150 miles off the coast of Zambales, a province on the western shore of Luzon Island, the largest and most northern Philippines island.
China's claim to the islands rests on interpretations of several treaties beginning with the Treaty of Paris 1898 which Beijing claims never specifically mentioned Scarborough Shoal as Philippines territory.
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