Japanese officials and nationalists alike are aghast at the plans of a landholder to sell his island to the Chinese, their concerns made all the more acute by the fact it contains a partially complete military base.
The controversy centres on “Mageshima Island,” an uninhabited 8.2km² island just off Tanegashima Island, at the southern tip of Kyushu and close to Okinawa.
The island’s only claim to fame is that it was apparently named (馬毛島: “horse hair island” – the “hair” here likely referring to “hairy barbarian”) after a horse reared there which was used in the introduction of muskets to Japan by Portuguese missionaries on neighbouring Tanegashima.
It is currently 99.6% owned by an obscure construction firm, “Tateishi Construction Corporation.”
Their CEO has recently caused considerable by upset by suggesting he would do well to sell the island to China:
“We have all sorts of interest in the island from Chinese enterprises. Depending on Japan’s interest, we may well sell it to them.”
Ministry of Defence officials are up in arms about the possible sale:
“We didn’t believe they were serious about this, but after the recent trouble over the Senkaku islands all that changed. The isle is situated near US bases at Sasebo and Okinawa, and is of considerable geopolitical significance as a result. The ministry is extremely concerned about critical consequences for national defence if China really did get it.”
“The companies which approached them offering to buy it were a Shanghai real estate developer and a resort developer – both of which are without doubt connected to the Chinese government.”
Previously his company was involved in efforts to build an airstrip on the island and sell or lease it as a US base relocation candidate., but these plans fell through after opposition from Tanegashima locals and fishermen.
The fact it now houses a partially completed airstrip and other facilities is also likely to cause additional concern:
The 15 billion yen the CEO claims to have invested in the island (although his company was recently found guilty of tax evasion, so the validity of their accounting is open to doubt) is also more than 3 times the largest sum the government was prepared to offer for the isle.
There is more than a little suspicion that the company is as much interested in blackmailing the Japanese government into buying up the island at an inflated price as it is in actually selling it to the Chinese – Ishihara’s provocative offer to buy part of the Senkaku islands enabled the owner of those islands to sell to the state at an inflated price.
Although any change in private ownership of the island would have no (immediate) impact on its Japanese sovereignty, it would allow the owner to potentially construct a listening post there, as the government has no legal right to either prevent a foreign buyer owning the island or to inspect whatever it is they do there, say officials.
Not unsurprisingly, the issue has inflamed the patriotic fervour of Japan’s do-little nationalists:
“If China comes in and buys it for 30 billion, what’ll the government do?”
“Expect the current owner to suffer an unfortunate traffic accident before then…”
“Japan should learn from China and ensure he meets an accidental flattening under a steamroller! Property rights are not worth having if it means harm to the nation.”
“It is still well within Japan’s EEZ and the only way to get there is by first legally entering Japanese territory.”
“Let him sell it. It has no water, no fuel, no port, and inspection and permission are required for any large buildings. If they build anything illegally they are vulnerable to legal action. They aren’t going to get permission for an airport or anything there.”
“He’s obviously just trying to slyly bid up the price.”
“Foreign ownership of our islands should be banned!”
“What the hell did he spend 15 billion yen on there?”
“This guy is a literal ‘traitor!’” [the Japanese for 'traitor' - 売国土, baikokudo - literally means "selling the country" ]
“What is the problem here? Who cares if Russia, China and Korea buy up all our land, it doesn’t change the fact it is Japanese land subject entirely to Japanese law.”
“Ban foreigners from owning Japanese land already.”
“Just expropriate it from him!”
“Confiscate the land from this traitor.”
“Just kill him, end of problem.”
“Seize it from him, for the sake of national security!”
“You guys sound as if you want to make Japan into China…”