Japan plans to nationalize 280 islands

Japan announced plans to nationalize 280 uninhabited islands in its exclusive economic zone, a move that casts Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s net farther out to seas churned by maritime disputes.

Minister for oceanic policies and territorial issues Ichita Yamamoto said Tokyo would establish administrative state control over the remote islands to “enhance their management.”

The islands, among about 500 that define the borders of Japan’s territorial waters, will be designated as “important national territories.” If realized, the policy would strengthen control of the country’s maritime territory.

“Registering remote islands as Japan’s national assets would send a message that we intend to strengthen management of them,” Yamamoto said at a press conference. “The government must accurately grasp the state of these remote islands.

The islands lie within Japan’s EEZ, under which the state is granted special rights over exploration and exploitation of marine resources in the surrounding area.

About 50 of the islands are inhabited and approximately 350 are uninhabited. Owners of 70 uninhabited islands have been tracked down. It remains unknown whether the 280 islands have owners. The government said it hopes to complete the search for the islands’ owners by 2014. Under the Civil Code, land with no owner becomes state property.

The plan coincides with Japan’s launch of the administrative office of its newly established National Security Council, which would consolidate Abe’s control over various security agencies and its Self-Defense Forces under the Prime Minister’s office.

Japan’s maneuvers could further rile its neighbors China and South Korea, which it locked horns with over territorial and historical feuds.

Chinese analysts rebuked the nationalization plans as Japan’s move to further bolster its maritime power at a time of high tensions between the two nations following China’s establishment of an air identification zone over the East China Sea. Beijing also cried foul over Abe’s visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine last month.

“The timing is very suspicious. Why does Tokyo announce such a plan after Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni shrine?” said Da Zhigang, an expert in Japanese affairs at the Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: Ippei & Janine Naoi/Flickr

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