In 2012, Tokyo received ¥1.5 bil. to buy Senkakus; ¥1.4 bil. remains unused

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Then Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara speaks in Washington on April 16, 2012.

A decade ago then Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara announced that the Tokyo metropolitan government planned to purchase the Senkaku Islands. The metropolitan government then solicited donations to fund the purchase and received nearly ¥1.5 billion, but more than ¥1.4 billion remains untapped as the central government decided to buy the islands from the landowners. Less than six months after Ishihara’s announcement, the islands were nationalized.

“Tokyo will protect the Senkaku Islands,” Ishihara said during a business trip to Washington on April 16, 2012, in announcing the metropolitan government’s plan to purchase the Senkaku Islands of Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture.

Ishihara’s move was the result of his growing distrust of the administration led by the then Democratic Party of Japan, which was slow to take action amid continued provocations by China. Beijing claims sovereignty over the islands.

“Ishihara made the decision without discussing related practical matters in detail,” recalled then Vice Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose.

While deputizing for Ishihara, he told to TV reporters covering the Tokyo metropolitan government, “If we solicit donations, we can lower the budget expenditures.”

The metropolitan government began to accept donations from late April 2012 and conducted environmental surveys from offshore around the Senkaku Islands in September.

Apparently dismayed by the moves by the metropolitan government, the central government concluded an agreement to purchase the islands with the landowners for ¥2.05 billion. The Senkakus were nationalized that September.

The donations collected over nine months to the end of January 2013 totaled ¥1.4852 billion. However, Ishihara resigned as governor in October 2012 to return to national politics. Inose succeeded Ishihara as governor, but stepped down after only a year. Ishihara retired from political life at the end of 2014 and died in February this year at the age of 89.

There were calls within the metropolitan government that the donations should be returned. However, it was difficult to do so because there were more than 100,000 donors, many of whom were anonymous. Furthermore, since the donations were solicited for the purpose of purchasing the Senkaku Islands, it was not possible to incorporate them into the general account budget for unspecified use.

The metropolitan government then decided to set up a fund with the donations. In March 2013, it established an ordinance that stipulates this fund will be used for “the state’s efforts to utilize the Senkaku Islands.”

Of the donations collected, only about ¥80 million was used for research and educational activities.

“Who should be responsible for having collected donations from the public is vague,” said Tokai University Prof. Yoshihiko Yamada.

In January this year, Yamada, who specializes in ocean policy, joined research conducted by the Ishigaki city government around the Senkakus. He said two China Coast Guard vessels approached a research ship and put pressure on it.

“Tensions around the Senkakus are rising,” Yamada said. “I hope the metropolitan government will consider an effective use of the donations to also give people renewed awareness of the importance of the islands.”