China said yesterday that Japan's naming of four uninhabited islets surrounding the disputed Diaoyu Islands was illegal, following a report that Tokyo had given the islets Japanese names.
The Central News Agency cited Japan's Sankei Shimbun daily as saying yesterday that Tokyo had named three islets near Huangwei Yu and one near Chiwei Yu - two major islands in the Diaoyus, known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands.
Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Osamu Fujimura, said this month that it would formally announce the names for all 39 remote islands, including the four islets surrounding the disputed Diaoyus, by the end of March to establish the basis of Japan's exclusive economic zone.
But Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin yesterday reiterated China's sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands.
In a statement issued in response to the report, Liu said that China had lodged an official complaint with Japan over its plan to name the islets off the Diaoyus. 'Any unilateral action by Japan over the Diaoyus would be illegal and void,' Liu said.
Prior to the Lunar New Year, Xinhua raised alarms about the Japanese government's decision to name the islets.
A survey on Sohu.com found that 6,000 respondents - or about 75 per cent of the total - considered the naming an act of aggression by Japan.
Opinions were divided as to how China should react to the Japanese move. More than 38 per cent of the respondents, or the largest group, supported China's immediate military occupation of the disputed islands.
And despite the government's heavy restriction on what people can say online, many opinions could be found blaming Beijing officials for being too timid and not wanting to challenge the Japanese government.
Observers of international relations have also expressed concerns.
Professor Shi Yinhong, who teaches international relations at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said that in the past few years the Diaoyu Islands had been the most sensitive issue between the two countries.
Shi said that with this incident, the Japanese government was solely responsible for bringing the Diaoyu Islands issue to the forefront of public attention. And Professor Gao Hong, deputy director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Japanese Studies, blamed Japanese hardliners.
'They always count on more support from the United States - or at least something that they could interpret as being support. So the US should play a healthy role and avoid doing anything that can be seen in that way,' Gao said.
The Diaoyu Islands have been uninhabited since this year, when a Japanese fish-processing plant on one of them shut down