NATIONAL SECURITY
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Shinzo Abe

Japan plans new law to make it harder for foreigners to buy land near sensitive sites

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 November, 2016, 7:22pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 November, 2016, 9:54pm

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is drawing up plans for new legislation that will make it harder for foreign companies or individuals to purchase land close to sensitive military facilities.

The new legislation will include clauses that permit the government to investigate the present ownership of land adjoining military installations used by the Self-Defence Forces or US units based in Japan, Jiji Press reported, out of concern for national security.

Analysts say that Japan is merely following what is common practice in other countries in the region, but suggest that the nation’s conservative government may be linking security concerns to “xenophobia and paranoia”.

“It makes a lot of sense for any nation to have security around sensitive areas so that their defence facilities and capabilities are not compromised,” said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at the Japan campus of Temple University.

“But nobody is cracking down, for example, on Australians who are buying second homes in the Niseko ski resort in Hokkaido, so it is clearly a case of who is buying these pieces of land that is causing concern,” he added, pointing to a local law passed in 2012 that imposed new requirements on anyone who wanted to buy land in the prefecture.

But nobody is cracking down, for example, on Australians who are buying second homes in the Niseko ski resort in Hokkaido, so it is clearly a case of who is buying these pieces of land that is causing concern
Jeff Kingston

The legislation was introduced largely out of concern at the amount of land that was being purchased by Hong Kong and Chinese investors, ostensibly for tourism development projects.

For Hokkaido, the major worry was large-scale development that could damage the delicate local environment, particularly the water table and woodlands.

The bigger concern for the government, given growing regional tensions, revolves around foreign entities purchasing land close to military bases. An underlying fear is that private companies buying land may very well be front companies for foreign governments looking to get a foothold and a military advantage abroad.

In 2013, a South Korean company bought a piece of land alongside the Maritime Self-Defence Force’s radar facility on Tsushima Island, off Nagasaki Prefecture in Southern Japan.

The island is just 50 km from the coast of South Korea and its strategic position and natural defences have long made it an important naval outpost for Japan. To add to the problem, there are some in South Korea who claim the island is part of the Korean Peninsula and since 2005 the town of Masan has staged events on June 19 to call for the return of Daemado island, the Korean name for the territory.

Also in 2013, there were reports that a Chinese consortium had attempted to buy an uninhabited island in the Inland Sea, which separates the main islands of Honshu and Shikoku. The island is close to both Japanese and US naval bases.

In 2010, residents of Nagoya opposed the construction of a new Chinese consulate in the city.

As an initial step, the government plans to devise legislation that permits it to investigate the ownership of parcels of land close to sensitive military sites and to confirm what the property is being used for. Failure to comply with a request to cooperate with an investigation can carry a fine of up to Y200,000 (HK$13,756).