Reports say Japan may nationalize contested islands

AFP and BLOOMBERG, TOKYO

Tue, Jul 16, 2013 - Page 1

Japan may nationalize any unclaimed remote islands in its waters in a bid to bolster its territorial claims, a Japanese newspaper said yesterday amid a dispute with China over one set.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is to establish a task force to research owners and names of about 400 remote islands, the Ywomiuri Shimbun said.

If their ownership is unclear, the government will give official names to the islands and nationalize them, the daily reported.

“[Japan] plans to end the research next year and quickly take action, including nationalization, to remote islands with no ownership,” the daily said.

The 400 islands are scattered across waters surrounding the Japanese archipelago.

The task force will comprise officials from the finance and justice ministries as well as the coastguard.

Last year, ahead of the planned project, Japan announced plans to give names to 40 other islands, including some near those at the center of a dispute with China, in an effort to verify the extent of its exclusive economic zone.

Tensions have steadily risen between China and Japan, which accuses Beijing of sending an increasing number of ships to exert its claim over the sparsely populated Diaoyutais Islands (釣魚台) in the East China Sea, which are claimed by Taiwan, China and Japan, which manages them.

The territorial row over the islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan, was reignited in September last year when Tokyo nationalized three islands in the chain in what it said was a mere administrative change of ownership.

Separately, Japan yesterday confirmed that Chinese ships passed through a strait just north of its territory for the first time.

Five Chinese vessels were seen heading east through the Soya Strait north of Hokkaido on Saturday, the Japanese Self-Defense Force said. It was the first time Japan confirmed such a passage though Chinese ships may have passed unnoticed before, a spokesman said by telephone.