Lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan started discussions Thursday on restricting foreign purchases of domestic land out of concerns for national security and natural resources.

This is the first move by the DPJ after the recent purchase of plots including water-retaining forests and real estate close to national defense facilities raised concerns amid a lack of legislation to restrict such acquisitions.

“We must talk about ways to protect the environment and security and find a certain direction,” Yasuo Ichikawa, an Upper House member and the head of the DPJ’s project team on the issue, said at the start of the meeting.

The team will meet twice weekly and aim to conclude hearings from experts by the end of March. It may hand in a revision of the law to monitor and protect forests during the ordinary Diet session starting Monday, said Upper House member Kuniko Koda, secretariat of the project team.

But discussions could take time because any regulation would need to avoid discouraging active foreign investment in domestic real estate, experts said.

The move followed Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s remarks in October at the Diet, indicating the possibility of restricting foreign ownership of land that could jeopardize national security.

Concern over the potential risk first arose among government officials three years ago, when word spread that South Korean interests had purchased a resort hotel next to Self-Defense Forces facilities in Tsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture.

Foreign interests, including Chinese, Australian, New Zealand and Singaporean enterprises or individuals, hold 820 hectares in Hokkaido.

Whereas other industrial countries either restrict such land purchases or require permission beforehand, a lack of domestic regulation has accelerated such concerns, Hideki Hirano of the Tokyo Foundation research institute told the meeting.

For example, the Alien Land Law of 1925 allows the government to regulate land purchases in areas crucial to national security, but the law has been ineffective for decades because government ordinances specifying restricted areas were abolished soon after the end of the war.

Hirano said the country needs to regulate any foreign land trade after zoning domestic land based on its importance for natural resources and national security.

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