National | Q&A

Tokyo's intentions for Senkaku islets

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara’s plan to have the metropolitan government purchase the Senkaku Islands continued to cause ripples Wednesday, with both China and Taiwan quickly issuing statements criticizing the move.

Following are questions and answers regarding the controversy and ownership of the islands:

What is the current status of the islands?

Located approximately 400 km from both Okinawa Island and the city of Fuzhou in China’s Fujian Province, they consist of three reefs and five islands, the largest of which, Uotsuri, measures 3.82 sq. km. The other four islands are Kuba, Taisho, Minami Kojima and Kita Kojima. The islets are known as Diaoyu in China.

Since 2002, the internal affairs ministry has paid approximately ¥24 million a year to rent Uotsuri, Minami Kojima and Kita Kojima from their owner, who resides in Saitama Prefecture.

Kuba, a property held by a relative of the Saitama owner, is being rented by the Defense Ministry for an undisclosed amount. Taisho is already owned by the government.

Ishihara is contemplating the purchase of Uotsuri, Minami Kojima and Kita Kojima.

When and how did negotiations for the purchase begin?

Upper House member Akiko Santo played a key role in bringing the two sides to the table. A longtime friend of the Saitama-based owner, Santo, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, also has connections to Ishihara.

Santo told reporters Wednesday that a series of territorial disputes, including the 2010 clash between Japan Coast Guard patrol boats and Chinese trawler, prompted the owner of the islands to think about selling.

Concluding that it was inappropriate to sell to another individual, the owner reportedly sought a responsible public entity to take ownership. Santo said she brought Ishihara and the owner together last September. A provisional agreement was reached by the end of the year.

What has been the reaction of the government and local leaders to Ishihara’s move?

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto praised the plan, telling reporters that buying up the contentious land “is an idea and an act that only Gov. Ishihara can come up with, something that a ordinary politician wouldn’t even think of.”

Yoshitaka Nakayama, the mayor of Ishigaki, the city that administers the Senkakus, was also in favor, while Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima said Tokyo’s ownership could help the situation in the area “stabilize.”

Among those opposing the purchase is Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa, who warns of friction with neighboring countries.

“I wouldn’t do such a thing if I were in his position,” Kuroiwa told reporters.

How have China and Taiwan reacted?

As the tenant, the central government has prohibited anyone from landing of the Senkaku Islands. It’s unclear if ownership will change this policy.

This possibility hasn’t gone unnoticed by Beijing and Taipei, which both claim rights to the territory. In an official statement, Beijing called the plan for Tokyo to purchase the Senkakus “illegal and invalid.”

The Taiwanese government also called Ishihara’s plan “unacceptable.”

How would the defense of the islands change if Tokyo becomes the owner?

Even if Tokyo buys the islands, Okinawa Prefecture and Ishigaki will remain the administrators of the territory.

Neither Ishihara nor his successors will have any governmental control.

The coast guard will continue its 24-hour patrols of the area to prevent intrusions.

During a news conference Tuesday, Saitama Gov. Kiyoshi Ueda pointed out that the “state has the responsibility to defend any land,” whether it belongs to a private owner or a government body.

What does Tokyo intend to do with the islands?

Ishihara has said the metropolitan government would manage and preserve the islands, just as it does the Ogasawara islets.

The current owner is reportedly willing to have the islands turned into a nature preserve, possibly in the form of a park that tourists could visit.

In announcing the purchase plan, Ishihara also spoke of establishing a fishing port there and developing the area as a possible energy resource. In 1968, the U.N. Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East reported that abundant oil reserves might exist under the surrounding seabed.

Is the purchase a done deal?

Not yet. The central government has a contract with the owner for the current fiscal year, meaning any new agreement will have to wait until at least April 2013.

It is also unclear how Tokyo and the current owner will settle on a price, since on-site assessment of the land will require special permission from the central government. Ishihara has so far said that the total cost can’t be disclosed, but it “isn’t that expensive.”

He must also convince the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly that buying a group of rocky deserted islands approximately 1,900 km from Tokyo is a good idea because the purchase can’t go through without the assembly’s approval.

Ishihara presses point


Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara said Tuesday in Washington that his offer to buy the disputed Senkaku Islands from their owners will benefit Japan through the development of fishery resources.

Speaking to reporters, Ishihara criticized China over its territorial claim to the Japanese-controlled islets in the East China Sea, saying Beijing’s dispatch of fishery patrol boats to their vicinity is “halfway to a declaration of war” against Japan.

“I want the (Japanese) government to address the matter in a firm manner,” he said.

Following Ishihara’s revelation that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has been negotiating with the owners of the islands in hopes of purchasing them by the end of this year, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura indicated that the central government may buy the islands if necessary. Fujimura reiterated that the islands are an integral part of Japanese territory.

The government should have bought the islands in the past, Ishihara said, adding that he will, if necessary, hold discussions with the central government over how to manage them.

Ishihara said Monday in Washington that the metropolitan government plans to buy all of the privately owned land on the islets, a part of which is owned by the central government.

The islands, which are administered by Japan, are claimed by China and Taiwan.

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