Following its decision to hold large-scale military maneuvers with US forces in waters disputed with China, Tokyo has taken another step in its efforts to make the islets as its "national assets", Japanese media reported.
The "biggest motive" of the move, said the Nikkei newspaper, is to serve as a counterbalance to China and assert Japanese "sovereignty" over resources in the region. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has yet to respond to the report.
According to the Nikkei on Saturday, the Japanese government decided to "nationalize" 25 scattered islets, including the Diaoyu islands on which China and Japan have overlapping claims, in March of next year.
The islets will be used as basic points to support Tokyo's claim over its continental shelf area and exclusive maritime interests in that region, said the report. All moves to explore resources there will have to be approved by the Japanese authority, it said.
Japan claims a continental shelf area of 4.47 million sq km, the sixth-largest one in the world and 12 times that of the nation's land area.
Okinotorishima, which consists of two uninhabited, rocky outcroppings about 1,700 km southwest of Tokyo, is also among the 25 islets.
Japan has claimed the reefs are bona fide islands that can be used to map its exclusive economic zone in the East China Sea. China has said the outcroppings are too small to be defined as islands under international law.
The list, however, did not include islands whose status Tokyo disputed with either Seoul or Moscow.
The Japanese government just wants to show to international society that they are "administering" these islands, said Shen Shishun, an analyst at the China Institute of International Studies.
"This is a consolidation of the 'administration'."
"But so long as China raises a protest, this announcement has no legal effect," added Shen, "This is only a unilateral claim."
Others see a darker side to this. "This announcement goes against international rules and hurts the interests of neighboring countries," said Gao Hong, an expert on Japanese studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"Moreover, it may further threaten the Chinese navy's access to the Pacific."
The news came days after another report that Tokyo and Washington are planning a naval drill in Oita prefecture, near Okinawa, and other southern islands including the Diaoyu islands, in December.
The two allies usually only stage their naval exercises east of Japan in the Pacific, which is closer to the Republic of Korea.
The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the exercise will be based on a scenario involving Japan recapturing an unnamed remote southwestern island from an enemy. The US Navy's Seventh Fleet will join the exercise, said the newspaper.
（中国日报网英语点津 Helen 编辑）
Todd Balazovic is a reporter for the Metro Section of China Daily. Born in Mineapolis Minnesota in the US, he graduated from Central Michigan University and has worked for the China daily for one year.