National / Politics

Ishigaki mayor to propose official name change of disputed islands in Okinawa

Kyodo

The city of Ishigaki in Okinawa Prefecture said Thursday its mayor plans to propose changing the name of a group of islands over which it has administrative authority to officially include “Senkaku.”

Mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama is pushing for the name change of the Japanese-controlled islets in the East China Sea. The islands are currently known as “Tonoshiro, Ishigaki City,” and the plan is to explicitly refer to them as “Senkaku, Ishigaki City.”

The uninhabited islets, known as Senkaku in Japan and called Diaoyu by Beijing, are at the center of a territorial dispute between Japan and China.

Nakayama will submit the proposal to the city assembly for discussion during its regular session in December, and the name change is likely to be approved.

The mayor on Tuesday revealed his plan to change the islands’ formal name. “I want the (plan) to be presented to the assembly for sure so that the formal address will now contain the (Chinese characters) ‘Senkaku,'” he said.

The islands, located between Okinawa and Taiwan, which also claims the islands it calls Tiaoyutai, are said to be close to oil fields beneath the sea floor.

In 1895, the government during the Meiji Era (1868-1912) incorporated the islands — about 400 kilometers west of Okinawa’s main island — into Japanese territory. Although now uninhabited, more than 200 Japanese people were said to have lived there at one point, and dried bonito was produced, among other things.

The islets continue to be a source of tension between Japan and China. While the Japanese government maintains that a territorial row does not exist over the Senkaku Islands, Beijing argues the islands have been Chinese territory since ancient times.

Japan insists that China expressed no interest in the islands until a 1969 U.N. study suggested that the surrounding waters might be rich in oil and gas.

China has stepped up its claim after the Japanese government purchased a major part of the islands from a Japanese individual and put them under state control in 2012.

Chinese vessels are often seen sailing in waters around the islands. Four Chinese coast guard vessels were seen entering Japanese territorial waters around the islets from around 9:50 a.m. Thursday.

The ships left the area after sailing for nearly two hours. According to the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters based in Naha, Okinawa, the ships, including one equipped with what seemed to be guns, were warned to leave the waters.

Chinese vessels last sailed into Japanese waters on Aug. 25.