Government hands keys to Senkaku Islands to Japan Coast Guard

September 15, 2012

By YOSHIHITO KAWAMI/ Staff Writer

After the central government purchased three islands of the disputed Senkaku Islands from a private owner, it turned over actual ownership to the Japan Coast Guard, coast guard officials said.

The government said since the Japan Coast Guard owns and manages a lighthouse on Uotsurishima, the largest island of the three, it will assume ownership of them.

Some view the decision as a message from the central government to China that Japan will not develop the islands. China and Taiwan also claim the island group in the East China Sea.

The Japanese government formally concluded a contract on Sept. 11 to purchase Uotsurishima, Kita-Kojima and Minami-Kojima islands for 2.05 billion yen ($25.95 million) from a Japanese family it recognizes as the private owner. All three islands are uninhabited.

The Japan Coast Guard was contacted by the Cabinet Secretariat on the evening of Sept. 7 about the ownership, a senior official said.

The official quoted a Cabinet official as saying, “(The Cabinet) wants the coast guard to be the owner of the land since it already owns a lighthouse.”

With the coast guard possessing other islands for maintenance and management of lighthouses, it reached a conclusion on Sept. 10 that “there is no reason to refuse the government request,” the official said.

As to why the Cabinet Secretariat contacted the coast guard, the official explained, “It wanted to bring attention to the status quo.”

As the owner of the Senkaku Islands, the coast guard will likely do little more than maintenance and management of the lighthouse, which it has been doing.

The coast guard’s ownership may be a strong message to China that Japan will not develop the islands, or construct a refuge for fishing boats, as Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara had suggested he wanted the central government to do as a condition for the metropolitan government to withdraw from obtaining the Senkakus, the official said.

The government also said that maintenance and management of the islands should be conducted “under the general arrangement of the Cabinet Secretariat.”

The coast guard will be a “nominal owner,” the official said, and its responsibility will be no further than what it has been already doing, including “making judgments regarding landings on the islands."

According to a coast guard official, the Japanese archipelago includes about 7,000 islands with coastlines encompassing 100 meters or longer. Of those, the Japan Coast Guard owns at least several dozens, the official said.

In many cases, the state-owned land is property of the Finance Ministry, the official said.

Since the Cabinet decision on Japan’s purchase of the uninhabited islands, China has been reacting strongly, including positioning marine surveillance vessels in the sea off the coast of the Senkaku Islands.

In a move to strengthen security around the disputed islands, the coast guard has included expenditures for that in its budget request for the next fiscal year.

By YOSHIHITO KAWAMI/ Staff Writer
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A lighthouse owned and managed by the Japan Coast Guard in Uotsurishima, one of the Senkaku Islands, in Okinawa Prefecture (The Asahi Shimbun)

A lighthouse owned and managed by the Japan Coast Guard in Uotsurishima, one of the Senkaku Islands, in Okinawa Prefecture (The Asahi Shimbun)

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  • A lighthouse owned and managed by the Japan Coast Guard in Uotsurishima, one of the Senkaku Islands, in Okinawa Prefecture (The Asahi Shimbun)

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