Concerns Can’t Be Dispelled over Land Acquisition by Chinese-Linked Company

Land on an uninhabited island in Okinawa Prefecture has fallen into foreign hands. Concerns cannot be dispelled from a security standpoint. The government should take appropriate action, such as monitoring how the land is used.

It has been learned that 51% of the land on Yanaha Island, an uninhabited islet in Izena, Okinawa Prefecture, was acquired two years ago by a Chinese-affiliated company in Tokyo. The land acquisition came to light after a Chinese woman posted a video showing the island on social media with the message, “I’ve bought an uninhabited island.”

The woman said she had purchased the land through a company run by her relative, and that a Chinese company is listed as the land owner on the registry.

The company engages in real estate investment and resort development. It refers to the acquisition of land on Yanaha Island on its website, stating, “We are working on a resort development plan.”

However, according to the Izena municipal government, there has been no development activity in the two years since the land purchase. That is puzzling. The island has no electricity, gas or other infrastructure. Prior coordination with government entities is essential for land development. The central and local governments must keep a close eye on future moves.

The woman’s social media post triggered online comments, such as “It’s become China’s territory.” Regardless of who owns the land, Japanese territory will never be transferred to the control of a foreign country. However, it is not good that inaccurate information is being spread.

Yanaha is a large uninhabited island with an area of about 740,000 square meters. The village owns 26% of the island, which includes most of the coastal area. It said it became aware of a change in land ownership two years ago, but was unaware that a Chinese-affiliated company had purchased the land.

The security environment surrounding Japan is deteriorating, and Okinawa Prefecture is geographically important.

The U.S. military’s Iejima auxiliary airfield is located on Iejima island, about 25 kilometers from Yanaha Island. Kadena Air Base, the largest U.S. air base in the Far East, is only about 60 kilometers away.

Under a law that came into force last year on the review and regulation of the use of land of national security importance, the central government can designate areas about 1 kilometer around important facilities, including bases of the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military in Japan, and on remote border islands, as “monitored areas” where the government can investigate how the land is used. However, Yanaha is not a border island so is not subject to this law.

China’s National Intelligence Law obliges its citizens to cooperate with the country’s intelligence-gathering activities. It is hard to say that Yanaha Island could not be used as a base for monitoring U.S. forces, among other purposes.

Japan has about 6,400 uninhabited islands. With the population of regional areas declining, the number of islands that are uninhabited has increased, but the central government has been unable to fully ascertain the situation regarding these islands. It is hoped that the government will consider measures, including a review of legal provisions, to enable it to investigate the actual situation on the islands, if necessary. 

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 25, 2023)