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.