The government of Japan completed an investigation Thursday that found a disturbing number of Chinese-funded land purchases near Japanese defense facilities, including the Japanese Self-Defense Force (SDF), coast guard, and space research laboratories, as well as bases used by the American military.
According to a report at Japan’s Sankei Shimbun newspaper translated by Hong Kong’s Apple Daily on Friday, the Japanese government launched the investigation last year after hearing “rumors in recent years that Chinese capital was being used to buy sites within 10 kilometers of defense facilities and on Japanese islands at the periphery of the country.”
The investigators discovered at least 700 land purchases funded or directed by China near military bases — evidently much more than they were expecting to find, judging from the stunned tone of the Sankei Shimbun report, and even more Chinese land buys are in the works.
These land purchases provided ample surveillance opportunities for numerous Japanese defense sites, along with U.S. military bases in Kanagawa prefecture and Okinawa. One of the Chinese land buyers in Kanagawa is “suspected to be related to the Beijing government.”
The new wave of Chinese land purchases appears to be focused on Japan’s coastal air and sea radar installations.
A less comprehensive survey in November uncovered 80 land purchases by Chinese buyers in high-security areas in Japan, including twenty acres near the SDF’s Chitose airbase in Hokkaido. Another was on the Okinawan island of Taketomi, which is close to Taiwan. A third suspicious purchase gave buyers linked to Beijing control over what the SDF described as an “absolute choke point” near the vital Cape Noshappu radar base, which monitors the Russian border.
A surge of foreign real estate investment ahead of the Tokyo Olympics prompted the Japanese government to establish an expert panel to review the national security implications of such land purchases in November 2020. In addition to China, the Japanese were concerned with the acquisition of sensitive real estate by South Korean interests, one of which involved a South Korean resort opening on a Japanese island that is both important to the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force and extremely popular with Korean tourists.
Efforts to tighten controls over foreign acquisition of Japanese land have run into objections that many of these transactions involve Japanese partners, so restrictions could infringe upon their constitutionally guaranteed property rights. Japan is also a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which has rules against discriminating against foreign buyers.
Sankei Shimbun reported that the Japanese cabinet is considering a bill that would designate real estate purchases by foreign investors within one kilometer of key facilities as meriting special review, including a requirement for the buyers to declare in advance how they plan to use the property.