Japanese activists land on island claimed by China
A GROUP of Japanese nationalists landed on a rocky island in the East China Sea yesterday, ratcheting up tensions in a long running feud between Tokyo and Beijing over the archipelago, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.
Protesters took to the streets in several Chinese cities, while the Beijing government said the landing was “illegal” and could “seriously damage” relations between the two Asian countries.
The islands are small and strategically unimportant, but the archipelago lies near potentially vast maritime gas fields. They are also claimed by self-ruled Taiwan.
The handful of Japanese nationalists swam to the island and waved Japanese flags.
Last week tensions were high after seven of a group of 14 Chinese activists slipped past Japan’s coast guard to land on one of the uninhabited islets and raise Chinese and Taiwanese flags.
“The Japanese side should properly handle the current issue and avoid seriously damaging the overall situation of China-Japan relations,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement.
“The illegal behaviour of Japanese right-wingers has violated China’s territorial sovereignty,” the statement said, and the Chinese foreign ministry had lodged solemn representations to the Japanese ambassador to China.
The Diaoyu islands row is one of a number of maritime disputes that China has with various neighbours, including Vietnam and the Philippines, over island territories in the South China Seas.
China’s rapidly expanding navy has sparked fears in the region that it could start using military means to push its case in the maritime tangles.
Diplomatic relations between China and Japan are regularly fraught, largely based on lingering Chinese bitterness over Japan’s occupation of China between 1931 and 1945 and a feeling in China that Tokyo has failed to atone adequately for its wartime behaviour.
In Shenzhen, in the manufacturing hub of Guangdong province, protesters overturned Japanese cars and shouted anti-Japanese slogans.
There were similar protests in other Chinese cities, such as Hangzhou, where demonstrators burned Japanese flags and waved nationalist banners.
A flotilla to the islands included several members of parliament and local lawmakers.
The Tokyo government had denied the group permission to land on the islands.
The activists landed on the island after the flotilla of 150 Japanese lawmakers and members of right-wing groups sailed out to waters around the Diaoyu islands to mourn soldiers who died in the second World War.
The activists later swam back to their boats, and were subsequently questioned by Japanese customs officials.
For its part, Japan also has its own issues with neighbours over maritime interests. President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea, a former colony of Japan, this month visited an uninhabited island chain claimed by both countries, known as Dokdo in South Korea and as Takeshima in Japan.