Japan names 5 disputed islets in East China Sea in bid to reinforce its claim

Japan on Friday named five uninhabited small isles belonging to an island group in the center of a dispute with China as part of efforts to reinforce its claim, a move likely to spark anger from Beijing and another claimant, Taiwan.

The five islands, named after directions of the compass, are part of the group in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku in Japanese and the Diaoyu in Chinese. Five bigger islands in the group already have names. Chinese and Japanese coast guard ships have regularly confronted each other in surrounding waters.

The five were among 158 islands that were named Friday and their list published on a website of the Japanese maritime policy department. The other islands elsewhere in the Japanese waters are not disputed.

The government said that naming the islands is meant to raise public awareness that they belong to Japan. The names are mostly those customarily used among local residents, and will be used in new maps and maritime charts, officials at the maritime department said.

"It's not just about the issue of the Senkaku, but we are conducting a broader review on the entire remote islands," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters. "China has its own approach, and Japan has our own fundamental position on the Senkaku islands. We only respond appropriately."

Assigning names to disputed islands does not change their status. Japan insists the islands lie within its territorial waters; China says they were stolen by Japan in 1895 and should have been returned at the end of World War II.

Taiwan, which calls them Diaoyutai, also claims the islands but has worked out an arrangement with Japan guaranteeing its fishermen access to the area, and it rejects any notion of joining with Beijing on the matter.

China and Japan are also at odds over exploitation of East China Sea gas deposits in the area.

The disputed waters are surrounded by rich fishing grounds. Chinese coast guard and fishing boats have recently more frequently approached the area, sometimes violating Japan's waters, especially since Japan's previous government nationalized the main Senkaku islands in 2012.

Ties between Japan and China have worsened in recent years over the island dispute, a contested gas field in the East China Sea and lingering animosity over Japan's World War II-era actions in China.