Japan to assert greater control over privately owned land on remote islands

Kyodo

The government will soon begin contemplating steps to enhance control over all privately owned land on remote islands to bolster national security and protect resources within the nation’s territorial waters, a source with the government said.

The government plans to set up a panel in fiscal 2018 starting next April to discuss land registration by owners who have neglected to do so, and imposing restrictions on land sales to foreign people in such areas, the source said Saturday.

The government is concerned that leaving land out of its control could raise security concerns or other issues, such as foreign people setting up bases from which to engage in fish poaching.

According to the Cabinet Office, there are about 480 remote islands along the perimeter of the nation’s border, excluding the South Korean-held group of islets in the Sea of Japan called Takeshima by Japan and Dokdo by South Korea, and the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido.

Of those islands, the government — beginning early next fiscal year — plans to look at 98 with privately owned land and will determine how many have lots whose owners are unknown, the source said.

Many of those 98 islands are in the Pacific Ocean or within the administrative boundaries of Kagoshima or Okinawa prefectures.

The source said the ownership of land becomes uncertain when those who inherit remote properties fail to complete land registration procedures. In some cases, the registered land owner has remained unchanged for 100 years.

The acquisition of land on remote islands by foreigners is also a concern for the government. In 2013, ruling party lawmakers questioned the purchase by a South Korean company of land near a Maritime Self-Defense Force facility on Tsushima Island in Nagasaki Prefecture.

During parliamentary deliberation in October 2016, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the acquisition of land in sensitive areas by non-Japanese is “an important issue concerning national security.”

Under the national security strategy decided in 2013, the government vowed to “proactively engage in the protection” of remote islands near national borders to ensure Japan’s “territorial integrity.”

As of the end of last March, the government had declared 273 uninhabited islands as national property.

Territorial issues concerning far-flung islands first began to gain national prominence after Tokyo’s dispute with Beijing over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands blew up in 2010, when a Chinese fishing trawler collided with two Japan Coast Guard boats in the waters near the islands.

In 2012, the Democratic Party of Japan-led government effectively nationalized the uninhabited islands by purchasing three of them from the private Japanese owner.

China and Taiwan, however, also claim the islands, which they call Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai, respectively.