Rattled by China's development of the Chunxiao gas field in the East China Sea, the government is setting up a task force to ensure Japan's vast ocean interests are protected.
The task force comprising officials from various ministries and agencies will be in place this month and operate with a focus on Okinotorishima island, Japan's southernmost point. Located more than 1,600 kilometers south of the capital, the island is part of the Ogasawara chain and comes under the jurisdiction of Tokyo.
Actually, the island is two tiny islets: but its location gives Japan a huge advantage. The exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the island covers about 400,000 square kilometers, larger than Japan's total territory of about 380,000 square km.
Because the islets are being eroded by the constant pounding of waves, the government will dispatch engineers to install concrete breakwaters. This will ensure the outcrops don't disappear below the ocean surface, meaning that Japan can continue to claim its EEZ from these outer limits.
Okinotorishima has been making headlines recently because Chinese ships have repeatedly entered Japan's EEZ around the island to survey underwater resources. Beijing does not recognize Okinotorishima as Japanese territory, insisting it is nothing more than a pile of rocks.
Task force members hope to have policies in place by August so they can obtain budgetary funding for fiscal 2006.
Chinese ships were last spotted in the EEZ around Okinotorishima in December. That prompted officials in Tokyo to step up efforts to defend Japan's ocean rights.
The task force intends to strengthen ways to catch intruders and initiate more marine and meteorological surveys around the island. There are also plans to construct a lighthouse there, sources said.
Their studies include finding ways to ensure the island does not get swallowed up by rising sea levels due to global warming.
Japan is locked in a fierce diplomatic battle with China over Beijing's exploration of the Chunxiao gas field under the ocean bed. Tokyo fears that China will suck precious resources from its side of the EEZ.
Territorial sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands, also in the East China Sea, is also disputed by Beijing.
Some years ago, right-wingers constructed a makeshift lighthouse on Senkaku's main island of Uotsurijima to press Tokyo's effective control. Last month, the government announced the lighthouse will be maintained and controlled by the Japan Coast Guard to show its determination to defend its ocean interests.
The government is under pressure from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to take a stronger stand on this and other issues concerning territorial sovereignty.
In October, the LDP set up a special committee to discuss Japan's ocean rights in response to growing concern about China's exploration activities.
The committee plans to wrap up its policies by the end of this month.
Nations with coastlines are allowed to control ocean resources for 200 nautical miles under the EEZ system. China disputes the demarcation line separating the two countries' EEZs.(IHT/Asahi: March 9,2005)