The Sub-Committee on Undersea Feature Names (SCUFN), part of the Monaco-based International Hydrographic Organization, received 50 applications from the State Administration of China to name underwater topographic features in 2016. This is more than double last year's figure, The Japan News reports.
Among the applications were proposals to name eight features near the Southern Kyushu-Palau Ridge region, which runs south from Japan's southernmost island toward Palau, and two in an area that Japan has already applied to a UN commission to exercise sovereignty over, The Straits Times reports. Another 21 sites were around the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, to which China and five other nations in the region lay claim.
The examination of Japan's application with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to extend its continental shelf in the Southern Kyushu-Palau Ridge Region has been postponed because of opposition from China and South Korea, according to The Japan Times.
China's Foreign Ministry says Japan's claim to the area is illegal and that it doesn't recognize Japan's exclusive economic zone or continental shelf claims.
Sixteen of China's applications were accepted, with 34 rejected because "naming them in Chinese may develop into disputes with coastal countries," the subcommittee said.
An official from Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the South China Morning Post that the applications do not currently "directly affect the interests of nearby maritime nations." However, some other officials say Beijing's naming moves are "aggressive" and that China is "seeking to assume control over territory."
Naming a feature does not necessarily bestow any rights to the namer, since all are free to apply to name unnamed features in international waters. But SCUFN regulations ask other countries to recognize a name applied by a sovereign state within its territorial sea, the South China Post points out.
"Naming the undersea features… reflects the potential rights China has to these features," maritime expert Yang Suihua said in a Xinhua report on the topic.