Japan: Ishigaki City Council Votes to Inscribe 'Senkaku' Into Administrative Name of Disputed Islands

Japan: Ishigaki City Council Votes to Inscribe 'Senkaku'  Into Administrative Name of Disputed Islands
Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

What you need to know

The Ishigaki City Council in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, voted to officially use the term "Senkaku" in the name of disputed island territories.

The Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands controversy has arisen again. The Ishigaki City Council in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, voted to change the administrative classification of the islands by changing their name from the “Tonoshiro Islands” to the “Tonoshiro Senkaku Islands.” The change will take effect on October 1, 2020. 

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded that the islands belong to Taiwan, and any moves to deny this fact are invalid.

According to CNA, Ishigaki’s city government had proposed naming the Diaoyutai islands “Senkaku Islands, Japan,” before the City Council decided on “Tonoshiro Senkaku Islands” in the vote this morning.

On June 11, in reaction to the planned vote, Yilan County voted to classify the islands as the Toucheng Township Diaoyutai.

The Okinawan news publication Ryūkyū Shimpō reports that the minority party in the Ishigaki City Council has concerns that the move will escalate tensions with China and Taiwan, who both claim the islands. 

Governor of Okinawa Prefecture Denny Tamaki said in a press conference on June 12, “Administrative district name changes are the responsibility of cities, towns, and villages. This is Ishigaki city’s decision.”

Asked about how ease conflict with China over the name change, Governor Tamaki said, “Okinawa and China have a long history of exchange. I hope to make good use of the relationship we already have built, going through means that only Okinawa has at its disposal to make contributions to peace.” 

Photo Credit: CNA
The World Association of Chinese to Protect the Diaoyu Islands gathered in front of the Taipei Office of the Interchange Association (Japan) to submit a letter of protest, June 17, 2020.

Why this change, why now?

The conservative newspaper Sankei Shimbun reported in 2017 that reasons for the change include the repeated encroachment into the island’s adjacent waters by Chinese government ships. A government official in the Sankei Shimbun report said changing the administrative name of the islands by adding "Senkaku" demonstrates Japan’s steadfast determination to uphold its sovereignty claims.

Although Japan calls the disputed territory the Senkaku Islands, this term had not been previously used in official administrative nomenclature. This inspired grassroots advocates, such as member of the Southwest Senkaku Islands Security Guarantee Research Institute, Moji Oh, to promote the official recognition of the name. 

Oh promoted the administrative name change by moving his household registration to the Islands, and writing a book in support of the cause. His political advocacy helped lay the groundwork for the official announcement today.   

Years of delays

Ishigaki Mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama had initially sought to propose to add “Senkaku” to the islands’ name at a December 2017 Ishigaki City Council meeting. 

But the Mayor balked when the Ishigaki City Council met that December, seeking to delay the proposal. Although Nakayama maintained support for the name change, he never set a specific timeline for implementation. 

Ishigaki Deputy Mayor Masahiro Kanna stood behind Nakayama,  emphasizing the need to coordinate with the national government.  But City Councilor Nakama Jun eventually won over the City Council by making reference to clause 260 of Japan’s local autonomy law, which states that local bodies have the authority to make a decision to change administrative names. “We don’t need to coordinate with the national government. The Mayor can make this decision.”

Mayor Nakayama said that, in the end, the change would not require coordination with the national government.

Beneath the bureaucratic change from above, a small movement from below

The Japanese publication NEWS postseven reported several years ago that many Japanese are moving their household registration to the outer limits of Japanese territory, including the Senkaku Islands, as Japan allows its citizens to register their household in any locality. 

Data from NEWS postseven shows that by 2011, about 20 Japanese had registered their household in the Senkaku Islands, including the researcher and advocate for the name change, Moji Oh. 

Abby Huang contributed to reporting.

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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