Japan changes administrative status of disputed islands, irking China to dispatch warships

Japan recently approved a bill to change the administrative status of a group of islands which have been claimed by both China and Japan, and has remained a point of disagreement for both the countries.

Japan’s Okinawa city council approved the bill on Monday. The Ishigaki City Council will change the administrative status of the island group known as Senkakus in Japan, and as Diaoyus in China.

The island group is currently not inhabited by humans. After Japan’s announcement, Beijing protested against the move while sending its coast guard ships to the area.

According to the bill, the administrative name of the island group will be changed from Tonoshiro to Tonoshiro Senkaku, in a bid to ward off confusion, as another area in Japan is known by the name of Ishigaki, as reported by local media in Japan.

The group of islands accounts for territory worth 1,931 kilometres (roughly 1,200 miles), and lies in the area southwest of Tokyo. Under Japanese administration since 1972, China asserts its claims on the land, saying it dates back to hundreds of years.

China was quick to respond to Japan’s plans and issued a statement, as follows. “Diaoyu island and the affiliated islands are China’s inherent territory, China is resolute in safeguarding our territorial sovereignty, this so-called administrative re-designation is a serious provocation towards China’s territorial sovereignty,” said Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry.

Additionally, China has dispatched a “fleet” of ships to the area surrounding the islands.

“We ask Japan to abide by the spirit of the four-principle consensus, avoid creating new incidents on the Diaoyu Islands issue, and take practical actions to maintain the stability of the East China Sea situation,” China said.

One of the defining tenets of this consensus was the fact that Japan should acknowledge the disputed nature of the territory.

However, Japan claims that the move was made to ease administrative function within the country, henceforth not taking into account any international actors.

“The approval of this case did not take into consideration the influence of other countries, but was considered to improve the efficiency of administrative procedures,” the council said.

China’s presence in the region surrounding the islands has been increasing over the last few months. Japanese government claimed that Chinese ships had been spotted since mid-April, setting records for the highest number of sightings in the region.