TOKYO (AP) -- Japan on Friday gave names to five uninhabited islets in an island group at the center of a territorial dispute with China as part of efforts to reinforce its claim, sparking quick condemnation from Beijing.
The five islands, named after directions of the compass, are part of the group in the East China Sea known as Senkaku in Japanese and 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, with the list published on a website of the Japanese maritime policy department. The other islands are in non-disputed Japanese waters.
The government said that naming the islands was meant to raise public awareness that they belong to Japan.
"It's not just about the Senkaku issue. We are conducting a broader review of all 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."
China immediately rejected the Japanese move, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang calling it "illegal and invalid."
"China resolutely opposes Japan's actions harming China's territory and sovereignty. No unilateral action undertaken by Japan can change the fact that Diaoyu and its surrounding islands belong to China," Qin said.
Assigning names to disputed islands does not change their legal 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 also are 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 approached the area more frequently, sometimes violating Japanese waters, particularly 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.
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