Since ancient times, the more remote frontiers have been more important to continental nations, which share borders with other countries, in terms of national defense, and every possible resource has been invested in remote regions. For Japan, an island nation made up of more than 6,800 islands, the sea is our frontier. The people of Japan have been relatively unaware of this frontier, all the more precisely because Japan is an island nation. Today, the ocean has tremendous potential as a frontier of resource development and economic growth. The development of its frontiers and the underlying premise of the enhancement of maritime governance are important to the maritime nation of Japan.
1. Enhance Efforts to Maintain Low-water Lines in Remote Islands in Frontier Ocean Areas!
The Okinotori Islands, the southernmost territory of Japan, have an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) extending some 400,000 square kilometers, which exceeds the country’s land area. The base line for the measurement of the width of an EEZ is the low-water line along the coast. It is important to further enhance efforts to maintain low-water lines in remote islands in frontier sea areas, to develop and use maritime resources, and to conduct ocean surveys.
2. Promote the Improvement and Management of Oceanic Legislation to Ensure the Governance of EEZ!
Japan’s EEZ is about 12 times as large as its land area and is the sixth largest sea area under national jurisdiction in the world. This sea area under national jurisdiction was added and accepted in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which came into force in 1994. Due to its short history, oceanic legislation should be developed. More specifically, a law is necessary to regulate national and municipal jurisdictions regarding the management of the EEZ, procedures for approval and authorization necessary to develop the EEZ and to install facilities within the EEZ, and the clarification of rights. In addition, it is important for the government to take the initiative in exploring marine resources in the EEZ and establishing laboratories to conduct trials involving environmental technologies, such as tidal and wind power generation.
3. Take an Active Stance to Promote Resource Development in Frontier Sea Areas Bordering China!
The development of oceanic resources has significant importance not in terms of economic policy but rather in terms of security policy. In issues involving China over the development of a gas field in the East China Sea, it is undeniable that the negative stance of Japan toward the development of resources in frontier sea areas was taken advantage of by an active and expansion-oriented China. The natural gas reserves in this marine area are actually not very large. For Japan, due to the Okinawa Trough lying between this marine area and the main Japanese land mass, it is not possible to build a pipeline and therefore it is hard to say that the development will generate profits. China should be viewed as strongly promoting the development not from an economic standpoint but from a security standpoint, and Japan should muster a resolute response. With regard to other sea areas, Japan should adopt a more aggressive attitude not just from an economic perspective but from a security perspective also.
4. Promote the Development of Marine Resources, such as Methane Hydrates and Rare Metals!
Thanks to the recent advancement of technology, the utilization possibilities of marine resources and energy sources for economic activities has been increasing significantly.
Methane hydrates are frozen complexes of water and methane, which is the main component of natural gas. When defrosted, methane hydrate breaks down into methane gas and water, releasing about 170 times more methane gas by volume than methane hydrate. If we can successfully extract a large amount of methane hydrates, we can immediately increase our production of natural gas. It has been revealed by a survey conducted over many years that methane hydrates are widely distributed under the seabed in the sea near Japan. No method of digging them up has so far been established, but if we can successfully develop the technology, the Japanese energy strategy would undergo a transformation on a scale even greater than the United States’ shale gas revolution. Other than methane hydrates, the presence of a number of marine energy and mineral resources, such as rare earths and rare metal elements, has been confirmed. Aggressive efforts to promote investment and develop technology that can be applied should be made.