Japan has arrested 14 activists from a Hong Kong-based fishing boat after they landed on the disputed Diaoyu Islands (Senkaku Islands in Japanese) on Wednesday, according to the Japan Times:
The seven activists who landed on the islet of Uotsuri at 5:31 p.m. were met by about 30 Japan Coast Guardsmen, police and immigration authorities who had arrived beforehand. Two of the seven returned to their vessel while the other five were interrogated by immigration officers and arrested on suspicion of illegal entry, Okinawa police said, adding that nobody was injured on either side.
A few hours later, nine more activists aboard the vessel, including members of the Hong Kong media, were also arrested for the same offense, the coast guard said.
The activists will be taken to Okinawa Island for further questioning. Then the police will decide whether to send the case to prosecutors or hand them over to immigration authorities for deportation.
Japan immediately lodged a protest with China over the landing. The government summoned Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua to the Foreign Ministry to lodge the protest.
Tensions on the Diaoyu Islands escalated in April when the governor of Tokyo announced plans for the city to purchase them, and Chinese state media had issued a warning to the Japanese not to interfere with the visitors from Hong Kong. The Wall Street Journal reported that the activists became the first from Hong Kong to land on the islands since 1996:
The dozen seafarers, who set out Sunday from Hong Kong, celebrated their landing as the culmination of a journey that had earlier been complicated by tropical storm warnings, food supplies lost overboard in choppy waters, and disappointment as hoped-for reinforcement boats from Taiwan and mainland China failed to materialize.
Throughout their voyage, the Hong Kong activists were cheered by observers in mainland China, many of whom had followed online the progress of the boat, the Bao Diao II, or the “Defend the Diaoyu II.”
“Hong Kong’s defenders of the Diaoyu are truly brave, your countrymen support you,” wrote one user on Sina Weibo’s popular microblogging platform Wednesday. “If I could, I’d also become a member of your boat’s crew.”
Xinhua News spoke with a leader of the activist group following the arrests:
The vessel displayed a banner declaring that “China cannot give up an inch of its territory” and the occupants of the boat were heard singing the Chinese national anthem as they landed on the shore of the island, local media reports stated.
“We have achieved our goal successfully in claiming our sovereign rights to the world. The action exceeds our expectations and we’ve accomplished our objective faster than expected,” local media quoted Chan Yu-nam, vice-chairman of the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, the group behind Wednesday’s landing, as saying.
The group’s Chairman Chan Miu-tak said the purpose of the landing was to plant China’s flag to assert its sovereignty over the uninhabited islands, but said the activists were under strict orders to avoid any physical confrontations with the Japanese side and to abort the mission should any incidents occur.
The Japanese Coast Guard deployed around nine vessels to follow the single fishing boat once the boat was within 30 kilometers of the isles, one of the activists from the committee was quoted by local press as telling reporters in Hong Kong on the phone.
Separately, a Xinhua News opinion piece called Wednesday’s incident a “new high” in tensions between China and Japan:
The tensions are fully due to irresponsible clamoring and attempts by some Japanese politicians and activists to claim the islands, which are in the East China Sea and indisputably belong to China.
To once again assert China’s historically proven sovereignty over the islands, seven activists from Hong Kong landed on one of the islands earlier Wednesday. The effort – the first successful Chinese landing on the territory since 2004 – came despite Japanese patrol boats guarding the islands.
The personal safety of the Chinese activists and their property shouldn’t be harmed by the Japanese side, since all they tried to do was only to step foot on part of their motherland.
See also yesterday’s post on the Tokyo governor at the heart of the Diaoyu dispute.