TOKYO (AP) — Japan has decided to name several uninhabited islands in a group that is also claimed by China and Taiwan, a move likely to anger the Asian neighbors.
Japan's chief government spokesman said Monday that 39 uninhabited islands will be given names by the end of March.
The islands all are within what Japan claims as its exclusive economic zone. But four of them are in the Senkaku, or Daioyu, island group in the East China Sea, which is also claimed by Taiwan and China and have been a flashpoint in diplomatic relations.
Soichi Yamagata, on official with the Cabinet office, said the names will be used for new maps. He said the islets are within Japan's established exclusive economic zone and will not change any maritime boundaries.
He said the move was not intended to stir debate about ownership of the islands. Japan has long claimed the islands as its own.
The islands are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and are regularly occupied by nationalists from both sides.
Ties between Japan and China have been strained for years over the island dispute, a contested gas field in the East China Sea and lingering animosity over Japan's often brutal World War II-era occupation of China.
A 2010 collision between a Chinese fishing boat and the Japanese coast guard near the islands inflamed tensions between the countries, with Beijing suspending ministerial-level contacts.
China also postponed talks on the joint development of the undersea natural gas fields and halted Japan-bound exports of rare earth metals used in high-tech manufacturing. Several anti-Japanese demonstrations occurred across China.
The Chinese captain was arrested but later released and sent back to China after heavy pressure from Beijing.