A key bill that would regulate the use of land around facilities deemed vital for national security purposes passed a Lower House committee on May 28, triggering criticism from residents of Okinawa Prefecture that the legislation is targeting local residents opposed to military bases.

A Self-Defense Forces base on Yonaguni island in Okinawa Prefecture in June 2019

Residents of the islands of Yonaguni and Miyakojima, where facilities to be designated as “special monitored zones” under the new legislation are located, have criticized the move, saying the government should provide an explanation as to why the legislation is necessary.

The government has said that it can issue recommendations and orders to stop acts by individuals and groups who “hinder the functions” at a designated area where facilities important for national security are located. Those designated areas include Self-Defense Forces bases as well as remote islands located near national borders.

Asao Shimoji, co-chair of Miyakojima Peace Network, which opposes the deployment of the Ground Self-Defense Force on Miyakojima, is enraged by the legislation.

“This is a targeted attack on citizens who object to the construction of the base and is nothing but a violation of their human rights,” he said.

Tetsu Inomata, 44, who lives on Yonaguni, agrees.

“The government’s intention is to use security as a shield in order to strengthen its surveillance of the public. It’s not intended to protect the safety of residents on remote islands,” he said.

Inomata’s home is very close to an SDF facility, which the government envisions designating as a special monitored zone.

“The bill aims to discourage people. I think it will be used to shun the anti-base movement,” he said.

On the other hand, Takeshi Kakihana, 70, who approves of the GSDF deployment on Miyakojima, voiced his support.

“I was worried when I heard foreign nationals were buying up land around SDF facilities outside the prefecture,” he said, adding that the government should have drafted the bill much earlier.

While understanding the concerns of residents who continue to protest against the SDF base, Kakihana said: “The bill is necessary for the government to protect national secrets. The government should proceed with what’s necessary for national defense.”

But are there any moves by foreign capital to acquire land on Miyakojima and Yonaguni?

According to one real estate business representative in the former, most of the land around the SDF facilities is farmland, and there have been no moves by foreign firms to purchase it.

In the past, businesses from China and other countries have requested information and been shown properties for accommodation facilities along the coast of Miyakojima and near the city center. But no deals have been concluded, the representative said.

There are very few properties around the SDF facilities for sale as residential land, the real estate official said.

“There are no inquiries from abroad. I understand the government is wary. But I think these concerns are far from the reality,” the real estate representative said.

What about the area around the Yonaguni garrison?

According to a town official, real estate transactions in the area are mainly between individuals without being mediated by real estate agents. A lot of land is not registered, and officials say they have never heard of any foreign firm owning property in the area or operating there.

Yonaguni Mayor Shukichu Hokama said he did not know the details of the government’s plan to designate the SDF facility in the town as a special monitored zone and plans to ask the government to carefully explain the plan.

“There could be backlash from local residents. If (the plan) is unavoidable for security reasons, the importance of the project must be explained to residents and local governments,” Hokama said. “There is a lack of explanation from the central government.”