Japan yesterday said it will accelerate the nationalisation of 280 uninhabited islands in a bid to strengthen control of the country's maritime territory.
Ichita Yamamoto, minister for oceanic policies and territorial issues, said Tokyo would formally register the remote islands, which are among the more than 400 land features that define Japan's territorial waters.
"We will register the remote islands as state property to enhance their management," Yamamoto said.
Also yesterday, Tokyo formally launched the administrative office of Japan's newly established National Security Council, which would strengthen Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's control over various security agencies.
Tokyo earlier claimed the need for forming a national security council as a response to China's increasing military assertiveness. But Chinese scholars viewed it as Japan's attempt to rearm itself and increase its military presence in the region.
Both moves announced by Tokyo yesterday could further fuel tensions between Japan and its neighbours China and South Korea.
The locations of these 280 islands are not known yet and it is not clear whether they are contested by other countries. When asked by the South China Morning Post, the secretariat of the Headquarters for Ocean Policy in Japan said the islands were "all around Japan" and were not under dispute. Media reports have said that these islands are without owners, and some of them are even nameless.
Yamamoto said that Tokyo had finished the nationalisation of 99 remote islands within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) by August 2011.
The nationalisation of the 280 islands is seen by some Chinese analysts as a move by Japan to further bolster its maritime power. Relations between China and Japan have soured after a series of events, ranging from China's establishment of an air defence identification zone over the East China Sea in November to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine last month.
The Japanese defence ministry said yesterday that it scrambled a military jet in response to a Chinese government plane seen flying towards the disputed islands known as the Diaoyus in China and the Senkakus in Japan, the first such incident since November, when China declared an air defence identification zone which overlaps with Japan's.
Da Zhigang , an expert in Japanese affairs at the Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences, said Tokyo's move to nationalise the islands would further dismay China and South Korea. "The timing is very suspicious. Why does Tokyo announce such a plan after Abe's visit to the Yasukuni shrine?" Da said.
But Professor Lian Degui , of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said Tokyo would only target islands that are not claimed by China or South Korea.