LAND PURCHASED BY CHINESE LEASED TO AMERICAN FORCES IN OKINAWA
It is old news that foreigners have been flocking to Japan to buy up land. It is also well-known that the government, under both LDP and DPJ administrations, has failed to put any laws in place to stem this trend. Nonetheless, one is truly stunned to realize that about 10% of land used by the American forces in Okinawa is Chinese-owned.
Former lawmaker Hiroshi Nakata revealed this October 21 during a weekly Internet TV news show which I host, stressing that the very national foundation of Japan is being eroded by foreign, primarily Chinese, capital.
While a Diet member in 2013, Nakata was shocked by the results of a survey conducted on Tsushima Island (located between Kyushu and the Korean Peninsula) that most of the land encircling the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) base on the island had been purchased by South Koreans. If a conflict were to arise, the activities of the JSDF might be seriously hindered. To cope with the situation, Nakata submitted a bill aimed at restricting land acquisition by foreigners.
“Unfortunately, the bill was scrapped at the time,” remarked Nakata. “The situation has become more serious in the last three years. Ten percent of land currently used by the American forces in Okinawa is owed by Chinese.”
China claims the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea as their own territory, and has also questioned Japanese sovereignty over Okinawa. China’s ultimate aim is very likely to claim all of the Okinawa islands as Chinese territory. Sensing the increasing Chinese threat to Okinawa, Japan has over the years earnestly endeavored to strengthen its alliance with the US.
The Japanese government leases 23,330 hectares of land in Okinawa, including plots it itself owns, and pays land owners annual rents on behalf of the American forces. Some 15,700 hectares (67%) of the land belongs to the state, prefecture, or local municipalities. The rest, 7,600 hectares, or 33%, is privately owned.
“About a third of the land used by the US forces in Okinawa belongs to Chinese,” Nakata pointed out.
If what Nakata says is true, the Japanese government is paying Chinese huge rents annually on behalf of the American military. The Chinese-owned land is believed to account for 2,500 hectares, or 32%, of the privately-held land leased to Americans. Journalist Masashi Miyamoto of the Sankei Shimbun writes in his Unreported Aspects of Okinawa (Kadokawa; 2014) that land in Okinawa fetches the highest rents in Japan, reflecting “political considerations” behind the US-Japan land-lease agreement. Those rates range from US$60 a tsubo (35 square feet) in areas such as Urazoe City to US$190 at the US naval port in Hana, according to Miyamoto.
Land Equals Nation
Taking the lower figure of US$60 a tsubo, this means the Japanese government may be paying Chinese land owners an estimated US$450 million or more annually in rent. Although this amount has yet to be confirmed by the Defense Ministry, it would be possible to surmise that the Japanese government is paying enormous amounts to China out of our taxes.
Nakata suspects that the Foreign Ministry is aware of Chinese purchases of land suitable for military use in Okinawa. I was intrigued by what Yoshiyuki Toita had to say about how much members of the government and local municipalities have, or have not, come to grips with this fact. When I first interviewed him some time ago, he told me:
“I’m afraid I don’t have much knowledge about Chinese buying up military land in Okinawa.”
But after taking some time to research this matter, Toita said:
“There have actually been cases of Chinese buying up military land in Okinawa, but they make it a rule not to come out in public. By scrutinizing information made available to me, I was able to see Chinese operating behind the scenes.”
Nakata pointed out:
“There is a tiny island named Ubanarijima which belongs to Taketomi Town in Ishigaki City. It’s a rocky, unmanned island with no water, barely an acre in area, which China wanted to buy for a whopping US$ 5 million.”
What was China after? The local people thought China possibly wanted the island because it is ideally located to monitor Japan Coast Guard ships as they head for the seas around the Senkakus 150 miles north. But the deal somehow fizzled out when the press got wind of the Chinese interest.
“This island is now managed by a local real estate broker. In view of its strategic importance, I believe it is most important to keep a close watch on any similar foreign overtures in the future.”
Nobody is convinced that anyone will attempt to acquire this barren island purely for economic reasons. There must definitely be security reasons, no matter how one may look at it. In point of fact, it was a Chinese body known as the China Association for International Friendly Contact (CAIFC)—which can be viewed as an intelligence arm of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)—which sent delegates to purchase the island.
Chinese also offered to buy land in Miyakojima City adjacent to Shimoji-shima Airport, which is equipped with a 9,800-foot runway. The importance of the JSDF building a new hub of air-sea operations at this airport has frequently been pointed out. This strategic significance is also obviously clear to the Chinese.
Land is synonymous with a nation. A nation is formed on land on which people live to develop economic activities. A nation deserves to be called independent only when it is capable of safeguarding its land—and its seas—on its own. But to this day, Japan has allowed foreign capital to unrestrictively acquire our land. China, on the other hand, refuses to sell land to foreigners—not even a single square foot—and China is not the only country.
The Philippines is another country that maintains the same land protection policy. Why then can’t Japan too take effective measures? While the national government appears reluctant to readily take action in this regard, members of local municipalities are alarmed and angry. Comments Masato Matsuura, Mayor of Hofu City, Yamaguchi Prefecture who serves as Deputy Chairman of the National Association of City Mayors:
Needed: Alien Land Law
“Mayors in Hokkaido got together on October 19 to discuss the matter. All the participants were extremely concerned and unhappy about the way the government has handled this matter. Municipal ordinances alone absolutely cannot block foreign capital from purchasing land in Japan. All of us, even those who tend to be more liberal on those types of issues, agreed that we cannot sit idly by and continue to allow foreign capital to buy up land around us. We reached a resolution to submit a proposal to the government next January, strongly calling for effective measures swiftly.”
How municipalities are administered directly affects the quality of citizens’ lives. Administrators are on the receiving end of information pertaining to foreigners—predominantly Chinese—plotting to purchase forests as well as land around water sources and defense-related facilities. Most heads of local autonomies have been trying hard to talk land owners out of selling such property to foreigners, but bad money comes in cash, which some find enticing.
Land once sold to foreign countries is extremely hard to buy back. The Foreign Ministry made a fatal mistake in 1995 when Japan joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), which constitutes one major reason why Japan has been unable to take effective measures.
While almost all other nations joined the WTO only after getting agreement on certain reservations, Japan joined unconditionally. This has made it difficult for the Japanese government to belatedly decide against selling land to foreign nationals. The Foreign Ministry must be taken to task for having dropped the ball at the time, but there is something that our lawmakers can do today to rectify the situation.
Japan has the old Alien Land Law enacted during the Taisho era (1912-1926). Based on the principle of reciprocity, this law allows us to sell land to citizens of other nations only if they also are willing to allow us to buy their land. It also entitles us to refuse to sell land out of concern for national security. Our lawmakers should by all means contrive a way to utilize this pre-war law. If they refuse to act now, it will clearly be an unpardonable breach of trust with the people of Japan.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 727 in the November 3, 2016 issue of The Weekly Shincho)