¥1.4 billion in islet funds in limbo


Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara’s sudden resignation has placed in limbo a huge sum of public donations intended to finance his thwarted attempt to buy the Senkaku Islands.

Ishihara had suggested that the sum be used to set up a fund to acquire three of the disputed islets in the East China Sea that Japan controls but China lays claim to, although no specifics have been mapped out. The planned funding could even be brought to the drawing board if a new governor, to be elected in December, has a change of heart.

Donations started flowing in from the public after the outspoken Ishihara announced a plan in April for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to purchase the disputed islets from a private owner in Saitama, in a bid to consolidate Japan’s sovereignty claim over them.

But his move in September forced the central government to step in and derail the designs of Ishihara, a hawkish politician known for his harsh stance toward China, buying the three islets itself for ¥2.05 billion.

The amount of donations, which are still being accepted but have tailed off since after the central government’s nationalization of the isles, totaled around ¥1.48 billion as of Oct. 26.

After the central government made its move, Ishihara held a news conference and indicated he would set up a fund to freeze the donations until Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda comes up with a plan to build infrastructure on the three islets, such as a typhoon shelter.

An ordinance has to be introduced to establish a fund, but a regular session of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly slated to convene in late November will be held by default since Ishihara has resigned from his post.

The donations have been posted in the local government’s account this year, meaning they cannot be carried over to the next fiscal year. A decision will have to be made by March 31.

“We will make a judgment about the timing of introducing an ordinance by considering various parameters,” said a metropolitan government official, adding that after a new government takes power, “that governor’s judgment will be factored in.”

After Ishihara’s announcement that he will step down as governor, no donors have requested refunds, although there have been inquiries as to what will happen to the three islets, according to the official.