NAHA – The Ishigaki Municipal Assembly on Monday renamed an administrative area that includes a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea, in a move likely to trigger a strong reaction from Taiwan and China, which both claim the uninhabited islands as their own.
The assembly changed the name of the area containing the Senkaku Islands from “Tonoshiro” to “Tonoshiro Senkaku.” It was able to make the change, set to take effect on Oct. 1, as the area falls under Ishigaki’s administrative authority.
The city in Okinawa Prefecture says the move is aimed at resolving administrative confusion between a locale in downtown Ishigaki, which shares the name “Tonoshiro” with the islands, but Japan’s neighbors may see it as an attempt to cement its claim by inserting the Japanese name “Senkaku.”
Taiwan slammed the move after it was reported, saying in early June it would “not be conducive to regional peace and stability.”
Ishigaki Mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama submitted the bill for the change after Japanese fishing boats were chased by Chinese patrol boats in Japanese territorial waters near the islands in early May, fanning speculation that the move was a response.
Nakayama has denied the change is intended to bolster Japan’s claim over the area, telling the city assembly it is “merely intended to streamline administrative work.”
Tensions over the islands escalated after Japan brought them under state control in September 2012.
Taiwan’s northeastern county of Yilan has adopted a proposal to rename the islands from “Tiaoyutai” to “Toucheng Tiaoyutai,” to include the name of a local township.
China, which also claims sovereignty over the islands, calls them Diaoyu.