A s an island nation, Japan owes its economic prosperity largely to trade via sea routes. The United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea, which stipulates a 12-nautical mile territorial limit and a 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone, went into effect in 1994 and Japan ratified it in 1996.

Japan, however, has lacked a legal framework for carrying out a comprehensive policy aimed at properly developing marine resources and protecting its maritime interests. On April 20, the Diet enacted the Basic Law of the Sea, scheduled to go into effect July 16, Marine Day.

The law is important because it provides a national framework for taking unified, comprehensive measures to promote development of maritime resources and to ensure maritime safety. So far, eight different government ministries have been in charge of sea-related policies, but they have not communicated closely with one another. They include the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the Defense Ministry.

It is hoped that the new law will help bureaucrats develop a new thinking with regard to policies concerned with the sea. The law calls for education measures to help the public become aware of the significance of maritime issues to Japan as well as to nurture experts who can cope with sea-related policy problems. The law is an outgrowth of nonpartisan discussions among lawmakers, bureaucrats and experts.

Along with the basic law, the Diet also enacted a law aimed at ensuring safety in developing natural resources within the EEZ. Ships will be prohibited from entering safety zones designated by the land minister.

Article 1 of the Basic Law of the Sea upholds the principles for observing relevant international agreements, ensuring sustainable development and utilization of ocean resources, and maintaining international harmony in the process. It stresses the importance of coordinating peaceful as well as proactive development and utilization with the preservation of the sea environment.

Article 2 says that development and utilization must be carried out with an eye toward preserving biodiversity in the sea and protecting the sea environment as the basis for the existence of human beings.

The law calls for setting up a comprehensive ocean policy headquarters in the Cabinet. The prime minister will serve as its head, with the chief Cabinet secretary and a new Cabinet minister in charge of ocean policy as deputy heads. The government will work out a basic ocean policy program that will be reviewed and renewed every five years in principle.

The basic program will cover such matters as development and utilization of ocean resources, preservation of the ocean environment, development within the EEZ, security and safety of sea transportation, promotion of ocean research and sea-related science and technology, development of industry devoted to development, utilization and preservation of the sea, and comprehensive management of coastal waters.

In implementing the new law, officials at headquarters need to strive to tear down the walls of various ministries and prevent their vested interests from standing in the way of promoting policy programs. They should also make it possible for the different ministries to create the synergy necessary for pushing new measures in a harmonious way.

The law calls for preserving and improving the environment for marine plants and animals, increasing the productive power of fishing grounds, and facilitating the development and utilization of oil and natural gas and mineral resources such as manganese and cobalt.

The law stresses that Japan’s nearly 7,000 remote islands play an important role in ensuring safety in ocean transportation, development and utilization of ocean resources, and maintenance of the sea environment. It urges adoption of measures that will enable such islands to fulfill these functions.

In view of the importance of developing, utilizing and preserving resources within the EEZ and on the continental shelves around Japan, the law calls for measures to prevent infringement on Japan’s sovereign rights, while calling for international cooperation in ocean resources development, protection of the ocean environment, disaster prevention, sea rescues, etc. Japan must pay careful attention to both national interests and international harmony in dealing with neighboring countries over ocean-related issues and problems.

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