TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - As China and other countries ramp up their maritime activities, preservation of remote islands near national borders as outposts to ensure territorial security and the fishery industry is imperative.
The government's Headquarters for Ocean Policy has approved a basic policy based on the special measures law that went into effect on April 1, to preserve inhabited remote border island areas, which are to be used as base points to determine Japan's territorial waters and exclusive economic zones.
Subject to preservation are 148 islands in 29 areas, including Rishirito and Rebunto islands in Hokkaido. The list also includes Tsushima island in Nagasaki Prefecture, where land acquisition using South Korean funds is of concern, and the Yaeyama Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, around which Chinese government vessels appear frequently.
Of the listed locations, 71 islands in 15 areas, including Tsushima and Oki Islands in Shimane Prefecture, where depopulation is conspicuous, have been designated as specific inhabited remote border islands. The government aims to maintain local communities by providing greater economic assistance to curb population decline.
The government and relevant municipalities are called on to take effective long-term measures.
"Once remote islands become uninhabited, it will become difficult to maintain their functions as outposts for conducting activities." The basic policy pointed out this important aspect.
More than 200 people used to live on the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. But after the islands became uninhabited, China started to claim sovereignty over them.
The population of Japan's remote islands has more than halved in the past six decades. If the situation is left unattended, illegal landing or fishing by foreigners may become easier.
The basic policy stipulates plans to install public facilities on remote islands and land-purchase efforts by the government. In the budget for fiscal 2017, the government allotted appropriations for the deployment of Self-Defence Forces guard units on islands including Amami-Oshima and Miyakojima, and for strengthening of the coast guard's functions on Ishigakijima island.
To begin with, the government and municipalities concerned must expedite efforts to ascertain whether land lots around SDF facilities and other properties have been bought using foreign capital.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has directed each Cabinet minister to work toward boosting the islands' populations, saying: "I ask you to take effective measures through which the inflow of population into remote islands will surpass the outflow of population."
As part of measures to deal with population decline, the government allocated a subsidy of ¥5 billion (S$63 million) in the budget for the current fiscal year. Fares for passenger boats and aircraft for use by residents of remote islands will be lowered to levels equivalent to relatively low Japan Railways fares. Gasoline prices and distribution costs, such as that for transporting specialty goods from remote islands, will be reduced.
In addition to supporting the livelihoods of inhabitants on remote islands, the government must strive to promote agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism as well as expand employment in the regions.
Procedures for nationalisation have been completed for 273 remote border islands to which no ownership had been claimed. The clarification of ownership will enable stable government-led management of such islands.
The Yomiuri Shimbun is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 news media entities.