Japan watching China's moves to name underwater features in disputed waters 'very closely'

The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense vessel,  JS Inazuma, seen on Jan 4, 2017.
The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense vessel, JS Inazuma, seen on Jan 4, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

TOKYO - Japan is "watching very closely" China's moves seeking to give Chinese names to undersea features that have previously been surveyed and named by Tokyo and are near its exclusive economic zone.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs official told the South China Morning post that the applications do not at present "directly affect the interests of nearby maritime nations". However, other officials have described the moves as "aggressive" and "seeking to assume control over territory.

A Chinese delegation had submitted 50 naming proposals to the Sub-Committee on Undersea Feature Names (SCUFN), a body under the International Hydrographic Organisation based in Monaco. These included names for sea mounts and ridges.

In its annual report on Dec 21, the organisation said that 16 of the proposals were accepted, while 34 were not. The reason for the rejections, according to the Yomiuri newspaper, was that "naming them in Chinese may develop into disputes with coastal countries".

The applications that were turned down including eight close to the Southern Kyushu-Palau Ridge region, which runs south from Japan's most southern island, Okinotorishima. toward Palau further south.

At least two of the sites that China sought to name lay in an area that Japan had applied to exercise sovereignty to a UN commission examining nations' claims to continental shelf territory.

Earlier this year, China's Foreign Ministry said that Japan's claim to the region was "illegal" and that China did not recognise the EEZ or continental shelf claims of the Okinotori.

The Japanese Foreign Affairs Ministry has emphasised that China has sought to name features in international waters and is free to conduct such research. However, the country is concerned at what it sees as a pattern of assumption of territories.

According to SCUFN regulations, naming a feature does not necessarily give the namer any rights to it, reported the South China Morning Post. Any country can apply names to an unnamed feature in international waters.

But the regulations also ask other countries to recognise a name applied by a sovereignty state within its territorial sea.