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Asia's Game of Thrones
Japan Pushes to Populate Islands

Japan is taking a new tack to prevent future island disputes, seeking to redevelop and repopulate its most remote islands. Financial Times has more:

Japan is launching an urgent drive to shore up the population of 148 remote islands as it tries to head off new territorial disputes with China and South Korea.

According to officials working on the plan, the government will legally designate the islands as inhabited border territories next month, with 71 singled out for special help due to their isolation and the severity of their population decline. […]

The new plan — which stems from a law passed last year — calls for the government to build civic facilities, buy land on the islands, improve ports and prevent illegal visits by foreign vessels. For the 71 specially designated islands, there is ¥5bn ($44m) a year to subsidise transport and create employment for residents.

The rationale behind the policy—that demographic flight from Japan’s remote islands has made them more vulnerable to external challengers—does seem to have some merit. The population of Japan’s remote islands has declined by 51.3% since 1955, and restoring even small populations on outlying islands could make them less susceptible to encroachments. As one official quoted by FT put it, “If there were still people living on the Senkaku Islands then perhaps there wouldn’t be an issue with China.”

It’s not just China that Japan has in mind: some of the prime targets for redevelopment are the Tsushima group of islands, located halfway between Japan and Korea. Real estate purchases by South Koreans there have previously stirred up Japanese nationalist sentiment and fears that South Korea would stake an official claim there. Tokyo, it seems, wants to make sure that never happens.

This all seems to be part of a broader strategy by Abe to unambiguously consolidate Japan’s control over its remote islands and pre-empt any rival claimants. He has also overseen a drive to give Japanese names to hundreds of tiny uninhabited islets, designated certain remote islands as UNESCO heritage sites, and led efforts to build an island out of a coral atoll in the Philippine Sea. Such efforts bear watching; time will tell whether they bolster Japan’s standing in the region or generate more pushback from neighbors like China and South Korea.

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  • KremlinKryptonite

    At the end of the day, Japan will do what likes with its islands just as the CCP is doing what it likes with its fake islands. And nobody is going to do a thing about it besides the regular incursions by the PLAN and PLAAF into Japanese air space and waters.

    Living here in Seoul for many years now, I’ve never seen so much support for the trilateral US-ROK-Japan alliance and cooperation as i have since 2015 (and particularly since the CCP has been waging economic war against Korea for trying to remedy a security dilemma that the CCP helped create for it in Pyongyang).

    • Jon Robbins

      The results of the May election will give us a much clearer view of what South Koreans think. Given that three of the four leading candidates (by polling) are from the Democratic Party, and that Moon Jae-In the only one polling in the 30s, I have to question the depth of support for the ROK-Japan relationship.

      • KremlinKryptonite

        I don’t see any reason to put any more stock in election polls here than I did in the US polls last year.
        Everyone I encountered was worried that Trump would pull the US out of Korea (wasn’t going to happen, but their fears were real).
        Ban ki moon was, before dropping out after being tied to an unrelated corruption scandal through family, facing the same criticism of being too conciliatory and appeasing towards the Chinese and the North Korean regimes.

        Although, Moon is facing a daily battering on forums and social media because he may very well be suffering from some early dementia. He posted a mild Japanese pornographic meme to his social media, and has also written the wrong date several times in the last year and even misspelled his name. So yeah. We will see.

        • Jon Robbins

          >”Everyone I encountered was worried that Trump would pull the US out of Korea”

          What sorts of people do you encounter? Anyone outside of CFC/USFK? Maybe you should get out of Yongsan more.

          In any case, just because people want the stability that the US presence brings does not mean they buy into an anti-Chinese alliance that is built around a constructed ROK-Japan relationship. That’s been our problem for years–trying to get the South Koreans to “ally” with people they don’t like that much (Japanese) against people that they mostly do like (Chinese). Talk about a Sisyphean task.

          • KremlinKryptonite

            I’ve been living here for almost 10 years, and lived in Japan before that. And I live in Seongbuk which is in the middle of Seoul fyi.

            Mainland China is one of the most unpopular countries in Korea (the Chinese communist party, rather). Everywhere you go nowadays you hear “짱캐” and “좆캍은 짱캐” and it’s not good haha. I’m almost sorry for the tourists who inevitably hear it when they stray from Myeongdong or Jamsil, etc.
            In fact, the Chinese Communist Party has snatched the title of most hated regime again, since the end of 2016, for waging economic warfare on Korea when Korea refused to prioritize the CCPs wishes over Seouls security.

  • Jon Robbins

    If Japan is seen by South Koreans as trying to solidify claims on islands also claimed by the ROK, then China will be the strategic beneficiary.

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