Japan’s government said Monday it has decided to purchase several disputed islands from their private owners, a step that is likely to anger China.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Japan plans to buy the three uninhabited islands in the East China Sea from a Japanese family it recognizes as the owner. China and Taiwan also claim the islands, which are part of what Japan calls the Senkakus and China the Diaoyu group.

Mr. Fujimura said the decision was made in a meeting of Cabinet ministers who are involved in the purchase plans. The full Cabinet, led Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, is expected to approve the decision on Tuesday.

Mr. Fujimura said the decision to nationalize the islands reflects Japan’s desire to create a “stable and secure” environment, not to anger China. “We hope there will be no misunderstandings,” he said.

Under the nationalization plan, the islands are to be left as they are now. China does not recognize the Japanese family’s deed to the islands as legitimate.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China was determined to protect its own sovereignty over the islands. “We are following closely how this develops and will take the necessary actions to safeguard China’s sovereignty,” he said.

The dispute has long been a flashpoint in Japan—China relations, and has been heating up in recent months.

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