Japan is seeking to nationalize 280 remote islands in a move aimed at strengthening the country's territorial boundaries.
Japanese government officials say nationalizing the islands is intended to clarify the government’s protection of its territories and reinforce its management of marine resources and national security, The Japan News reported.
“Registering [remote islands] as Japan’s national assets would send a message that we intend to strengthen management of them” Ichita Yamamoto, Japan’s state minister for oceanic police and territorial issues, said.
“The government must accurately grasp the state of these remote islands,” Yamamoto said, according to the report.
The move may heighten already strained tensions between Tokyo, China and South Korea, who are currently engaged in territorial disputes over ownership of unclaimed islands in the East China Sea, Reuters reported.
“We believe that Japan’s actions in marine areas should follow international law, and should not harm the interest of other countries or the international community,” said Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman of China’s foreign ministry, according to Reuters.
Earlier in the week, Japan's Cabinet adopted a national security strategy and revised defense plans that increased defense spending and calls for a larger role in maintaining international stability.
The program includes acquisition of surveillance drones, anti-missile destroyers and other equipment as the country's defense priorities shift to focus on its dispute with China over uninhabited islands.
The revised defense plans are based on the new national security strategy that reflects Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's drive to raise the profile of Japan's military and for the country to play a bigger international role.
Experts say the strategy and the defense plans are in line with power shift that has been continuing for several years. But Japan's neighbors — and some Japanese citizens — worry that the guidelines push the country away from its pacifist constitution.
The guidelines say China's growing maritime and military presence in the East China Sea, its lack of transparency and "high-handed" approach -- including its recent imposition of an air defense zone in the area -- pose potential risks that could trigger problems. Late last month, China said all aircraft entering a vast zone over the East China Seat must identify themselves and follow Chinese instructions, although the U.S., Japan and South Korea have ignored those demands.
Abe said the national security strategy shows Japan's diplomatic and security policy to people in and outside Japan "with clarity and transparency."
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.