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Politics

Japan cites security as it weighs limiting foreigners' land purchases

Measures likely aimed at Chinese entities to cover nuclear and military facilities

The Japanese government has concerns about foreign parties purchasing property near sensitive infrastructure. (Source photo by Masaru Shioyama and Rie Ishii)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government has started to consider measures that would restrict where foreign nationals and businesses can buy land.

Tokyo is mulling a screening process for land purchases near national security-related facilities, including U.S. military bases, Self-Defense Force facilities and nuclear plants.

Currently, anyone can buy or sell land in Japan, in principle, but there are concerns about foreign parties purchasing property near sensitive infrastructure. The fears are that such facilities can be easily photographed and communication lines tapped.

In a 2013 survey, the Japanese Ministry of Defense found that foreign nationals and businesses were involved in property transactions in areas near SDF facilities in Hokkaido and Nagasaki Prefecture.

"There is the possibility that Chinese nationals may have acquired properties near U.S. military and SDF bases or purchased such property from other foreign nationals," a government official said.

There are no statistics or documented research regarding foreigners' land acquisitions near SDF and other security sensitive facilities.

The government plans to work out an outline of the restrictions in the basic guidelines on economic policy and reforms to be finalized in June. It aims to prepare a bill incorporating the restrictions for deliberation in the 2021 ordinary parliamentary session.

Japan is party to a World Trade Organization agreement that calls on signatories not to discriminate against other nationalities in regard to land acquisitions. The agreement allows for security exemptions, but only to countries that insisted on them. Japan was not among these countries. As a result, Tokyo needs approval from WTO member countries to introduce the restrictions.

Wary of potential Chinese attempts to pilfer important technologies and sensitive information, Japan in November revised its foreign exchange and foreign trade act, tightening restrictions on foreign ownership of Japanese companies deemed to have security significance. These companies include nuclear power plant operators and information technology providers.

Fear of China's potential stealth moves has already prompted European countries and the U.S. to clamp down on foreign ownership of domestic companies.

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