News / Asia

China Undertakes Massive Island Naming Campaign

South China Sea Territorial Claims
South China Sea Territorial Claims
The Chinese government, in an attempt to press claims of sovereignty over thousands of small islands and islets, is giving them official names, according to the state news agency Xinhua.

China has already given names to 1,660 islands and islets and plans to name an additional 1,664 by August of next year, according to the Xinhua report. Provincial authorities are also working on a local island census and will compile information with names and locations of the islands and islets by the end of April 2013.

China counts more than 7,300 islands and islets measuring 500 square meters or larger, the report said.

According to Jacques deLisle a University of Pennsylvania law professor and expert on Chinese law, under generally accepted principles of international law, the way a nation claims sovereignty over uninhabited or sparsely inhabited territory is to exercise sovereignty over it, meaning populating it with nationals, establishing effective government over the people who live there and building an infrastructure.

Another, weaker form of exercising sovereignty, he said is “is reflected in the periodic stationing of hapless People’s Liberation Army soldiers on Mischief Reef (a reef in the Spratly Islands) and the dispatching of a garrison this summer to one of the larger landforms in the Paracel Island (Xisha in Chinese) group.”

Since many of these newly named islands and islets cannot support even that level of population, these forms of exercising sovereignty are impractical there, said deLisle.

“This new and ongoing announcement of ‘naming’ is a still-more abstract, weak or thin form,” he said. “That is, it is better than nothing and is a way of asserting sovereignty. It does little to settle the issue, but it can, of course, be provocative to rival claimants who understandably fear that such moves, left unchallenged, can move the needle in favor of the more assertive party and thus feel compelled to push back.”

Taylor Fravel, an expert on Chinese foreign policy and security at MIT, says the naming policy is “symbolic.”

“Basically, this is about demonstrating sovereignty over undisputed islands that litter the Chinese coast, he said. "Most of these are uninhabited and best described as rocks. It is not really about establishing sovereignty, as no one else claims them.”

News of the island naming comes amid growing tensions over the sovereignty of numerous islands in the East China Sea and South China Sea.

China is currently embroiled in an escalating dispute with Japan over islands called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

On Tuesday, Japan said it spotted seven Chinese naval ships near one of the disputed islands, as tensions between the two Asian powers remain high. So far there have been no clashes.

In the South China Sea, China is involved in several territorial disputes, including the Spratly Islands, which are claimed by China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines; the Paracel Islands, which are claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam; the Pratas Islands, which are claimed by China and Taiwan; the Macclesfield Bank, which is claimed by China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam; and the Scarborough Shoal, which is claimed by China, Taiwan and the Philippines.

The islands are contested because of suspected large reserves of oil, natural gas, minerals and fisheries in the areas.

China has been very assertive in staking its claims recently, leading to increased tensions with its neighbors.

Last July, China established a military garrison called Sansha City on one of the Spratly islands.

"The establishment of Sansha City is a wise decision by the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee to safeguard national sovereignty and security, to strengthen the protection of resources and overall development in the South China Sea," said Xiao Jie, the First Mayor of the new Sansha City.

Beijing plans to use its Sansha base to increase patrols in waters claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines.

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Comment Sorting
by: nhan thai from: baltimore MD
October 21, 2012 12:09 AM
you see ! to be peaceful , friendly , and good neighbors resolving the disputes in south china sea by taking over the islands without agreement or consent from the owners of island , and established a new city which include the whole sea is nicest china , if any1 is against china , china is bullying that one rite then , in fact china killed 70 vietnam soldiers in 1988 , use its force to bully and take over island from philippines in this april .

by: noble1853 from: Philippines
October 18, 2012 6:28 AM
China makes territorial dispute with all its neighboring countries and tries to steal those territories.
China is an aggressor and burglar and sick man of Asia.

As long as China is an autocratic nation and has no democracy it doesn't stop being an evil nation.

by: Anonymous
October 17, 2012 5:23 AM
World leaders of industrial and commerce are thinking China as a giant pot of money and follow them whatever they want. OK They clog your mouths by his cheap labor property and point everywhere they want and sent their troop. From Tibet to all over the world as well as OIC. Rest of the world are weak and no ability to act against them. UN can tell what? Their alliances are overwhelm UN and all International Groups. Muslim OIC only 57 countries. Rhey have about half of votes. Like Philippine, They will announce soon as an independent country Islamic country. Even small but have a vote. World is trouble, Where are the gods are sleeping.?

by: Ranchho from: Mainland China
October 17, 2012 3:55 AM
Mainland China & Taiwan's territorial claims are totally the same. It's because Taiwan(the Republic of China) represented China in the international arena before the authority was kicked out of the UN, while now the P. R. China( Mainland) represented China. So when China and Taiwan are mentioned at the same time on those territorial disputes, it can be very misleading and give people a kind of feeling that Mainland and Taiwan seem to be the territorial rivals.

by: Clueless
October 17, 2012 12:49 AM
Okinawa islands chain is very long, look like a barrier. So no surprise China is so assertive. Smile.

by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
October 16, 2012 8:39 PM
China looks have a huge tongeu sticking out to southern open sea. Asian rivai claimants, let's unite together and pull out this tougue.

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