The Ishigaki City Council of Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture has passed legislation to change the administrative status of the uninhabited island archipelago, known as Senkakus in Japan and Dioyes in China.
The bill would change from “tonoshiro” to tonoshiro senka “for administrative purposes, to avoid confusion with another area of Ishigaki, Japan’s NHK News reported.
The islands, located 1,200 miles (1,931 km) southwest of Tokyo, have been operated by Japan since 1972, but both Tokyo and Beijing have had their claims to the group for hundreds of years.
Beijing’s foreign ministry said Monday that it will hold a strong protest against Tokyo.
“The island of Diou and allied islands are China’s inherent territory. China is determined to safeguard our territorial sovereignty. The so-called administrative reorganization is a serious provocation towards China’s territorial sovereignty,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhongjian Zhou.
At the same time, the China Coast Guard said the “fleet” of its ships was in the waters around the disputed islands on Monday.
China warned ahead of Monday’s vote against real changes on the islands.
“We urge Japan to adhere to the four principles of consensus, not to create new incidents on the Diaoyu Islands issue, and to take practical steps to maintain the stability of the East China Sea situation,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday.
One of those four principles, Japan acknowledged that sovereignty over the islands was in dispute.
The bill, which was approved Monday in Ishigaki, eliminated any concerns about how Beijing could comprehend the move.
“The approval of this case has not taken into account the impact of other countries, but has been considered to improve the efficiency of administrative processes,” the council said.
Earlier, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that the bill “claimed the islands were part of Japanese territory”.
It is the ranking language in Beijing.
“Changing the administrative position at this time will complicate the dispute and make it more vulnerable to the crisis,” Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at the University of China’s Foreign Affairs, told the Global Times.
The fears of clashes escalated last week with the announcement from the Japanese Coast Guard that Chinese government ships have been seen in the waters close to the Senaka / Diou islands every day since mid-April, setting a new record for how many days in a row.
As of Monday, those sightings had reached 70 consecutive days, with four Chinese ships in the area as voting was taking place in Okinawa, the Japan Coast Guard said.
In response to increased Chinese presence, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga reiterated Tokyo’s decision at a news conference last Wednesday.
“The Senkaku Islands are under our control and undoubtedly our territory is historically and internationally compliant. These activities are serious. We will respond strongly and calmly to China,” Suga said.
Violent protests in China
Prior to Monday’s vote, the “crisis” on the islands had taken place in 2012.
That year, Japan nationalized the then privately owned islands to prevent the planned sale of Tokyo’s then governor, a tough nationalist who hopes to develop the islands.
Protesters threw rubble at Japanese embassy in Beijing, looted Japanese shops and restaurants, and demonstrations turned violent as Japanese cars were towed.
In the full illustration of what the islands look like in Chinese consciousness, a fellow Chinese man runs a Toyota Corolla and his fellow countrymen are thrown into a coma.
If the level of military conflict is ever to escalate, any dispute over these islands will be complicated, and the United States is responsible for protecting them as part of Japan’s territory under a mutual defense agreement with Tokyo.
William Chung, a Senior Fellow at ISIS-Youssef Ishaq Institute in Singapore, recently warned that the Senkakus / Dioyu Powderkeg may outperform other competing regions in East Asia.
“The question is not whether we want to challenge Japan on China and the islands, which are now the target of the US full-court press. The question is when and how? Japanese (and American) policymakers will stay up all night,” Chung wrote.