Edited to provide updated information.

In a deliciously interesting and mildly deranged proposal, Ishihara Shintaro has while in Washington told (日) the Japanese press that he is going to try and go forward with an idea to purchase the Senkaku Islands using Tokyo-to money. While technically part of Okinawa territory, the islands are actually owned by a private (Japanese citizen) investor.

What is the problem? Currently while the islands are under private ownership the Japanese government actually pays rent (日) to the private owner to ensure no development is done on them that would irrevocably preclude any future negotiation over the islands’ status by further strengthening Japan’s legal claim to continuous occupation and use/’effective control’ over the islands.  For the time being they can avoiding “provoking” the Chinese government, contrary to the various unofficial diplomatic accommodations on what to do with the land, or how to deal with both Chinese and Japanese citizens who land there, that the two governments have. However, one assumes that Ishihara will not sit back like the owner and will try to develop the land and surrounding ocean areas, and maybe even encourage some brave souls to take up semi-permanent residence on the islands.

The government (whoever they will be) will be forced to either act against one of their own citizens and restrict the freedom of either purchase or development of private property, or risk the wrath of the Chinese government. If Japanese were annoyed that the DPJ government undermined Japan’s domestic rule of law and legal processes in 2010 by “caving” to the Chinese, then this would certainly throw the cat among the pigeons.

It may still be a long shot – there may be legal prohibitions I (or Ishihara) do not know about in terms of use of public money, and Ishihara has said he will need the permission of the city assembly to appropriate the funds. It is possible – although not certain – that the Tokyo-to assembly may feel that using city funds in order to support an individual’s own personal foreign policy is not the best look. Further evidence that Ishihara is not really the governor of Tokyo and is dancing to his own tune in terms of both domestic and now foreign policy.

H/T to Bryce Wakefield for the Jiji link.

Update: The government is staying mum on this issue, saying that the facts need to be checked about the proposal and the owner needs to be contacted. FM Genba has however reasserted that both historically and on the basis of international law the Senkakus are Japanese. A high-ranking MOFA official has apparently gone on record as saying that they doubt Ishihara will be able to get the proposal past the metropolitan assembly.

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Corey Wallace joined Japan Security Watch in 2011. He writes on Japan security-related topics, focusing on issues and stories that may not find their way into the English language media. He also hosts the blog Sigma1 where he writes on Japanese domestic politics and broader issues in international relations. Prior to taking up a PhD Corey was a participant on the JET program (2004-2007) and on returning to New Zealand he worked at the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology from 2007-2010 as a policy adviser. Corey lectures two courses at the University of Auckland. One is on the international relations of the Asia-Pacific, which contains a significant focus on East Asia security issues. The other is a course on China's international relations. His primary academic interests before his current Japan focus were science and technology politics/policy, issues of ethnic identity, and Chinese modern history and politics. He carries over his interest in issues of identity and history into his PhD where he is looking at generationally situated concepts of national identity and their impact on foreign policy ideas in Japan.
Corey Wallace has 48 post(s) on New Pacific Institute