Protection of remote islets eyed

Kyodo News

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The administration is planning a law that would give the central government, rather than local entities, the authority to manage and control specific remote, uninhabited islets in an effort to maintain Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama could submit the bill to the Diet as early as this month, government sources said.

The first two candidates are the remote Pacific outcroppings of Okinotori and Minamitori, which are now under the jurisdiction of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Under the proposed legislation, the central government would carry out shoreline protection and port construction.

The move is apparently aimed at countering China, which has repeatedly argued that Okinotori is not an island but a mere group of rocks, rejecting it as a base point for Japan’s 200-nautical-mile EEZ.

China has argued that Japan should not claim the EEZ and the continental shelf stretching from Okinotori.

Potentially subject to the bill would be islands that are far from the four main islands, serve as key points for activities to maintain Japan’s maritime interests such as natural resources and have no port facilities managed by local authorities.

Located some 1,700 km south of Tokyo, Okinotori, an atoll of coral reefs, is considered Japan’s southernmost point, while Minamitori, 2,000 km southeast of Tokyo, is the nation’s easternmost island. Both are uninhabited and part of what is called “Ogasawara village,” which is administered by the metropolitan government.

bill would require the central government to preserve the low-tide lines of the islands and work out basic development plans.

Permission from the minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism would be necessary to excavate soil or undertake other economic activities on the designated islands.

The bill would establish a prison sentence of up to one year or a maximum fine of ¥500,000 for violators.

“Preservation of the EEZ is directly linked with Japan’s sovereignty. It isn’t a matter for local governments,” one of the sources said.

Okinotori consists of two islets, Higashiko and Minamiko, and has a vast EEZ of about 400,000 sq. km, almost the same as Japan’s land territory.