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Tokyo officials, residents caught off guard with Senkaku purchase plan

Publication Date : 18-04-2012


Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara's statement that his government intends to buy part of the Senkaku Islands has surprised even his own officials.

Before leaving for the United States, Ishihara reportedly told people close to him he would cause a controversy, but metropolitan government officials were shocked by the governor's speech in Washington.

"It's a bolt out of the blue," one said.

Ishihara's unexpected idea of buying the islands near the border with China and far away from Tokyo has also confused many Tokyoites. Some were skeptical about the idea's feasibility, while others grumbled that their taxes would be used for the purchase.

"What? I didn't know anything about that," one official in the metropolitan government's press division said while listening to Ishihara's US speech, which was streamed on the Internet early Tuesday. According to the metropolitan government's Finance Bureau, the Tokyo government needs to clarify the purpose of the purchase when buying land outside Tokyo.

If the cost exceeds 40 million yen (US$496,000), a council comprising experts will examine whether the price is appropriate. If the price exceeds 200 million yen ($2.48 million), the government must obtain approval from the metropolitan assembly.

However, a metropolitan government official said, "Protection of national land and waters is supposed to be the responsibility of the national government."

Another said, "I have no idea how to explain why Tokyo must buy the Senkaku Islands."

The metropolitan assembly was not informed of Ishihara's plan in advance, either.

"I think that's the governor's usual style, but I didn't hear anything about the idea previously and don't know what he really has in mind," said Taro Yamashita, secretary general at the metropolitan assembly of the Democratic Party of Japan.

A senior member of the Liberal Democratic Party, which supports Ishihara, has taken a wait-and-see attitude. "It's important to protect national land, but we're not at the stage of discussing whether the purchase is appropriate," a senior member said.

Kunihiro Higashimura, chairman of the New Komeito policy research council at the metropolitan assembly, questioned the feasibility of the purchase.

"I'm not sure whether the metropolitan government should use taxes paid by Tokyo residents for the purchase and management of such a remote place."

Tokyo residents were also divided over the purchase. Tsutomu Okada, a 74-year-old real estate agent in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, welcomed Ishihara's plan, saying, "If someone like Mr. Ishihara, who has strong leadership, oversees ownership [of the Senkaku Islands], [Japan] can make a strong statement to China."

"It's a meaningful way [to use public funds], rather than spending them on useless projects," he added.

However, a 27-year-old housewife of Nakano Ward, Tokyo, said: "It's a matter the state should handle. It's questionable because it will put a burden on Tokyo residents."

The housewife said she applied for vacancies at a child-care centre for her 2-month-old son, but could not obtain admission due to limited availability.

"I want priority given to creating an environment more friendly to child-rearing when using taxpayers' money," she said.

Owner of islands happy

Meanwhile, a lawyer for a man in Saitama Prefecture who owns part of the Senkaku Islands, said Tuesday morning, "We're waiting for the metropolitan government to proceed with administrative procedures. We believe Tokyo is worthy of being entrusted with the three islets [of the Senkaku Islands group]."

"We also believe the governor will keep the islands [the client has protected] as they are, in terms of protection of the environment for indigenous species and others," the lawyer said.

Ishigaki mayor welcomes plan

Yoshitaka Nakayama, mayor of Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture, which has the Senkaku Islands under its jurisdiction, said he was informed of Tokyo's intention to buy the islands in advance.

At a hastily called press conference Tuesday, Nakayama said, "As the Senkaku Islands are remote islets near the border, I consider it better for the islands to be owned and managed by the state, a prefecture or a municipality rather than individuals, to protect our land and seas." Nakayama said he will discuss specifics with Ishihara, such as whether the land will be owned jointly by Tokyo and Ishigaki, after the Tokyo governor returns to Japan.


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