Chinese protesters' vessel rammed off Diaoyu island chain
Chinese activists from Hong Kong and mainland China have accused the Japanese coastguard of ramming a vessel in which they were traveling to land on an island in a chain disputed between China and Japan, RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese services report.
A Hong Kong-based group that campaigns for the return of the Diaoyu island chain to Chinese sovereignty said the activists were about two kms (one mile) from the islands when they were intercepted by four Japanese gunboats and several military helicopters.
Their boat was repeatedly rammed by one of the coastguard vessels, a spokesman for the activists, Leung Kwok-hung, told Agence France-Presse. Nobody was injured, but the boat had suffered minor damage, he said.
"The attitude of the Japanese is quite shocking as it seems they will do anything to prevent us from landing on Diaoyu islands," said Leung, who led a small protest group to the Japanese consulate in Hong Kong earlier the same day to demand Tokyo give up its claim to the islands.
The Japan Coast Guard said the activists' boat had entered waters claimed by Japan, and Japanese patrol craft were trying to block it by moving into its path. "We are determined to stop their landing by all means," Japan Coast Guard spokesman Kiyoshi Kawamura said.
He said the Japanese also used loudspeakers to warn the activists to stay away from the five uninhabited islands, which are called Diaoyutai by China and Senkaku by Japan.
About a dozen activists staged a sit-in late Wednesday outside the Japanese Consulate in Hong Kong, shouting, "We from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan unite/To safeguard the Diaoyu islands�risking our lives."
One analyst based in Hong Kong told RFA�s Mandarin service that the declining importance of Sino-Japanese economic ties�relative to Sino-American trade ties�has fostered greater Chinese assertiveness regarding Japan.
"Now that China�s biggest trade partner is the United States, it�s less tolerant with Japan than before," said the analyst, who asked not to be named. "The Chinese are being tougher with Japan."
Japan, China, and Taiwan all claim sovereignty over the islands, which are 500 kms (310 miles) from Japan's Okinawa Island and 140 kms (87 miles) from Taiwan. The dispute flared in the early 1970s, when China and Taiwan made claims to the islands after oil deposits were confirmed in the area by a United Nations agency.
In January, the Japanese government admitted to leasing some of the disputed islands from the Japanese family that has owned them for more than three decades.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue repeated China's claim to the islands in a statement Thursday. "The Chinese government and people were steadfastly determined to safeguard the country's territorial sovereignty," Zhang told a regular news briefing in Beijing.
But she stopped short of throwing government support behind the protesters' actions. "China maintains that China and Japan should settle their dispute over the Diaoyu Islands through consultation," she said. #####