The head of a civilian group in China dedicated to protecting the disputed Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea has again applied to Chinese authorities for permission to lease the islands. The renewed effort by campaigner Tong Zeng comes as Tokyo's metropolitan government and Japan's central government are preparing to buy the disputed islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan, from a Japanese businessman who claims to be their owner. Tong, a venture capitalist and president of the Chinese Civilian Association for Safeguarding the Diaoyu Islands, said his investment company submitted an application on May 30 to the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) to lease the disputed chain for tourism development. 'I want to protect the Diaoyu Islands by developing tourism there,' he told the South China Morning Post yesterday. Tong applied to lease the islands from the SOA in 2003, before heading the civilian group a year later. Under Chinese law, individuals or legal entities can apply to lease certain uninhabited islands for up to 50 years for tourism, fisheries and other uses. However, the Diaoyus were not on the SOA's most recent official list, issued in April last year, of 176 uninhabited islands open for development. Tong said he would assemble a team of experts, including lawyers and developers, to study the lease. He also wants to apply for the operation of a ferry service to the Diaoyus from Zhoushan , Zhejiang , or Xiamen , Fujian , according to a report by the Legal Weekly. Tong has campaigned on behalf of civilian movements seeking war reparations from Japan and defending China's sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands for two decades. In early 2004, shortly after he made his first application to lease the islands, he and six other activists went to the islands in a flotilla, evading the Japanese coastguard. Within hours of landing, the seven were arrested by Japanese authorities and taken to Okinawa for questioning. Japan's Kyodo News Agency, citing local officials in Tokyo, reported yesterday that the metropolitan government would soon apply to Japan's central government for permits to survey the disputed islands. Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara sought donations to the city government in June to buy three of the five Diaoyu Islands. But earlier this month, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said his government was considering a similar acquisition.