Move to nationalize 400 remote islands in the works


Japan may nationalize any unclaimed islands in its waters in a bid to bolster its territorial claims, a government source said Monday.

The government plans to establish a new council aimed at strengthening the administration of Japan’s 400 or so remote islands to ensure it has control over natural resources in the surrounding waters, the source said.

The step might include islands that have no legal owners.

Japan’s fringe islands define the limits of its territorial waters, and the government is keen to further protect those areas in light of China’s incessant maritime activities near Japan’s territorial waters.

By using the council to coordinate with related ministries and agencies, the government will survey the 400 islands, half of which remain unnamed.

The government will collect environmental and other data on the islands and name the unnamed ones.

The council will be established after the House of Councilors election on July 21, the source said.

In 2012, Japan completed the process of naming all of the 99 remote islands that define its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, which gives it the sole rights to explore any natural resources within.

The territorial row over Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Tiaoyutai in Taiwan, was rekindled last September when Tokyo nationalized three islands in the chain in what it said was a mere administrative change of ownership to keep them out of the hands of outspoken nationalist Shintaro Ishihara, who used his power as Tokyo governor to start the whole affair.

The purchase brought Japan’s Senkaku islet count to four.

Tensions have been rising steadily between China and Japan, which has accused its powerful neighbor of regularly sending government ships into its waters to exert its claim over a set of unpopulated islands managed by Tokyo in the East China Sea.

Beijing has also disputed Tokyo’s claim to Okinotorishima, a tiny, barely visible speck of land 1,700 km south of Tokyo, saying the wave-swept atoll cannot be regarded as an island under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

  • phu

    This is perhaps one of the few things Japan has done in the realm of Little Island Politics that I’d call a good idea. It’s also one that should have been started long ago, but given the state of things, it’s a sensible move.

    Of course, it’s also likely to piss everyone off, but then that hardly seems avoidable lately. As long as Japan isn’t attempting to nationalize anything that someone else already has a claim to, though, this is a valid preventative measure (though it’s certainly not going to be good for international relations).

    • Glen Douglas Brügge

      You just wait, “someone” will claim them all of a sudden – most likely China.

  • AC

    How come in this site is different from the said statement “China-Japan relations were greatly damaged after Tokyo illegally nationalized part of China’s Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea in September.” from this site http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/world/2013-07/16/content_16779914.htm than this “Tensions have been rising steadily between China and Japan, which has
    accused its powerful neighbor of regularly sending government ships into
    its waters to exert its claim over a set of unpopulated islands managed
    by Tokyo in the East China Sea.” http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/07/15/national/move-to-nationalize-400-remote-islands-in-the-works/#.UeRIeqzWYtc which is this. – Just noticed :) I hope China will stop lying and lying.. Like they said to the DFA of the Philippines. http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/317554/news/nation/phl-china-statement-on-territorial-dispute-baseless. Stop lies!! Make peace!!

  • Paldo

    sooner or later JP will claim islands off the US coast, islands in the Arctic, Atlantic as well as Indian Ocean. May be also the unclaimed islands in the Mediteraneen Sea.

  • This is precisely the type of prescription that makes me think neither China, Russia or Japan deserves the islands. The question is whether this was coerced ‘nationalisation’ or merely acquiescence for the sake of the good of those private owners. Hard to believe they all agreed. Perhaps a poorly translated or conceived idea. It makes you think govt just doesn’t grasp their role as custodians of the people. It seems they are too caught up in the ‘heat of the battle’. One of those nationalistic agendas seem to be running..and those islanders are caught between a rock and a hard place.

  • Antoine B.

    As the article says, the 99 islands that define the 200-mile economic zone have already been taken care of earlier. So if my understanding is correct, those 400 islands are already inside the exclusive economic zone and are not extending it.

    If so, then I don’t know why anybody would argue: it’s not like Japan was claiming a US island!
    Anyway, if there are any worthy natural resources, there will always be someone to counter-claim the place…

  • Spudator

    I’m confused. Are these islands Japanese territory or are they not? If they are, what’s the point of nationalising them? (Remember that the only reason the Senkakus were nationalised was to thwart Ishihara’s deliberately provocative plan to acquire the islands for Tokyo.) And if they’re not Japanese territory, surely the thing to do is to order the Maritime SDF to visit them all and raise the Hinomaru on each of them.

    Does this government have any kind of clue what it’s doing?

    • The islands are Japanese territory, but when they’re in the hands of private owners, it creates extra hoops for the authorities to jump through if they want to do research on them, build mooring or other facilities on them, and so forth. If the private owners aren’t actively making use of the things then it makes sense for them to be national land and managed publicly.

      One reason the government didn’t want to nationalize the Senkakus in the first place was that by giving money to the people holding the deed, it opens the gates to similar claims from people holding deeds to land in the Northern Territories—and there are thousands of families in that situation, not just one as in the Senkakus’ case. Makes for a big administrative mess if these families start coming forward and pressing for payouts.

      • Spudator

        Thanks very much for your interesting and informative response. Yes, I see your point that, in the case of privately owned islands that aren’t being used by their owners, it might make sense for the government to acquire them and so gain unrestricted access to them.

        What puzzled me was that the article stated that “Japan may nationalize any unclaimed islands in its waters” and that “[t]he step [of ensuring control over natural resources in the waters surrounding islands] might include islands that have no legal owners“. I have to admit I’m completely ignorant about administrative matters like this, but surely if an island is in Japanese territorial waters and hasn’t been claimed by anybody, the government has the right to do what it wants with the island. Why would they need to nationalise it? Wouldn’t it already be public property?

        Also, if the point of nationalising unclaimed islands is to send a “keep your hands off” message to China, as the article implies, is it really the best way of sending such a message? Why not just, say, build helipads on the islands and have Japan Coast Guard helicopters drop in from time to time as part of regular border patrols? To me this would seem to be a much more powerful way of demonstrating possession of the islands; and possession is, after all, nine-tenths of the law.