Japan gave names to five islands that are part of a group claimed by China, in a move that risks raising tensions with its neighbor as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks a summit with President Xi Jinping.
The Japanese government designated names to 158 islands that “provide a basis for the outer border of Japan’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone,” Abe’s office said on its website today. The names of the islands will appear on maps to “enable appropriate conservation and management” and to “contribute to people’s understanding.”
The move follows a report that former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda may have met Xi on a secret visit to China last month to explore the possibility of arranging a summit. With ties already strained over territorial and historical spats, the naming of the islands could jeopardize the chances of a meeting.
“Japan has been in a weak position because it hasn’t made strong enough claims in the past,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo. “There’s a danger of backfiring as efforts begin to seek a summit meeting with the Chinese leader in the autumn.”
Abe is seeking a meeting at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Beijing in November, according to the Mainichi newspaper.
China responded to the announcement by telling the Japanese government that the disputed islands are part of Chinese territory, Kyodo news agency reported, citing an unidentified government official.
The five islands lie in a disputed cluster in the East China Sea known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. Ships and aircraft from the two countries regularly tail one another around the islets, and Japan has accused China of flying fighter jets within tens of meters of its surveillance planes in the area.
The islets in the Senkaku chain have been given geographical names such as “South-East Small Island” and “West-North-West Small Island.” The other islands to be given names stretch from Okinawa in the south to Hokkaido in the north.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said at a briefing in Hanoi today that Japan will supply Vietnam with six patrol ships valued at 500 million yen ($4.9 million). Japan’s assistance to the southeast Asian nation comes amid a dispute between China and Vietnam over overlapping claims in the South China Sea that flared up in May when China set up an oil rig near Vietnam.