TOKYO Japan is set to clarify the ownership of 280 remote islands in its territorial waters and register them as national assets, a move that could rile China and South Korea, which are engaged in territorial disputes with Tokyo.
Japan's move to survey the islands and claim those with no apparent owners was announced this week and continues a plan first begun five years ago, an official at the country's Oceanic Policy and Territorial Issues secretariat said.
"Basically the idea is to register these islands as national assets," said the official, who declined to be identified.
He said the location of the islands remained unclear until the survey was completed, but they were all within Japanese territorial waters and the boundaries of the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) would not change.
Since the plan kicked off, Japan has nationalized some 99 remote islands with no apparent owner. That figure is separate from the 280 islands featuring in the current survey.
Ties between Japan and China have been strained due to a simmering row over ownership of a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, while Japan and South Korea are locked in a territorial row over a different set of islands.
China is keeping a close watch on the situation, a spokeswoman of the country's foreign ministry said.
"We believe that Japan's actions in marine areas should follow international law, and should not harm the interests of other countries or the international community," Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing on Thursday.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's December 26 visit to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals are enshrined along with war dead, infuriated China and South Korea and stoked concern from the United States, a key ally.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)