The spy next door: Japan law blocks land grab near US bases and islands

Nikkei -- Mar 28
Long-considered an overlooked national security vulnerability, Japan will start paying closer attention to just who is buying land close to sensitive areas, aiming to thwart hostile actors from conducting espionage or disrupting operations at defense bases, nuclear plants and other such facilities.

The cabinet approved a bill to do that on Friday and will submit it to parliament for final passage.

The lack of information regarding land purchases near Japan Self-Defense Forces bases and on remote islands has "long been considered a problem," Hachiro Okonogi, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, told reporters on Friday.

"The bill is an extremely important first step toward resolving this long-standing issue," said Okonogi, who is also Japan's minister in charge of territorial issues. The cabinet wants parliament to pass the bill in the current Diet session and have it take effect as early as April 2022.

Sales of land within roughly a kilometer of SDF and Japan Coast Guard facilities, U.S. military bases, nuclear plants or other key infrastructure would need to be reported in advance to the government, as would sales on remote islands. Japan will screen buyers using residential records and other resources.

The Naha base of Japan Air Self-Defense Force in Okinawa. The government will tighten oversight of land purchase near defense bases and border islands due to overseas security concerns. Kyodo

"In order for Japan to stay in lockstep with the Biden administration, which values U.S. alliances, Japan needs to set certain restrictions on land deals for security purposes," said Mari Iwashita, chief market economist at Daiwa Securities. "It makes sense to bolster frameworks to prevent disruptions at important facilities so we can dispel uncertainties in Japan's economy and in companies' medium- to long-term strategies."

Extra scrutiny will be conducted on plots above a certain size near SDF command centers or on islands near maritime borders, with prospective buyers required to report their names, addresses, nationalities and plans for the land.

Landowners involved in suspicious actions, like jamming radio waves or wiretapping nearby facilities, initially will receive a warning, followed by an order, to cease those activities. Those who refuse would face up to two years in prison or a maximum fine of 2 million yen ($18,200).

Submitting false information about the sale, or failing to report the deal in the advance, would carry a sentence of up to six months or a maximum fine of 1 million yen, regardless of whether the landowners are involved in illicit activities.

- Nikkei