Japan Returns Island Activists

Fourteen Chinese activists are sent home after being held for landing on a disputed island.

china-japan-activist-island.gif A Chinese activist (R) is greeted with flowers by well-wishers on arrival in Hong Kong, Aug. 17, 2012.

Authorities in Japan on Friday deported 14 Chinese activists detained for landing on a disputed island in the East China Sea, with some making their return journey by the vessel they arrived in.

Seven of the activists arrived in Hong Kong by plane on Friday evening, as Japanese nationalists said they planned a similar excursion to the waters near the island this weekend.

Meanwhile, the Japan Coast Guard escorted the activists' fishing boat with seven crew members to the limit of Tokyo's territorial waters off Okinawa, where it was met and escorted towards Hong Kong by a Chinese patrol boat, local media reported.

Activists in Beijing said they were still unhappy with the outcome, however.

"They detained our people and they rammed and damaged our boat," said Li Nan, a member of the China Federation for Defending the Diaoyu Islands. "They have never admitted they were wrong throughout this whole affair."

"On the contrary, they seem to think they are dealing with it with great magnanimity, which I think is confusing black and white."

He called on Beijing to give an account of the entire affair to the Chinese people.


However, Hong Kong-based Li Fule, who is a member of Beijing's advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, welcomed Japan's response.

"We are very happy that they have come back, and that the whole affair has been resolved in such a short time," Li said.

But he called on the Japanese government to compensate the activists for the damage to their modified fishing boat.

"They rammed it and damaged it," Li said. "Also, the Japanese should make a public apology, and promise that no such thing will occur again in the future."

The activists' boat was intercepted off the islands, which are controlled by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan, during a protest trip on Wednesday organized by the Hong Kong-based Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands.

Japan's decision to send them home will bypass any criminal proceedings, potentially easing the tension between the two Asian powers, which flared after their detention and the visit to a controversial war cemetery by two top Japanese politicians.

The activists' detention drew an immediate diplomatic protest from Beijing, with official demands for their "immediate and unconditional" release, and sparked anti-Japanese protests in a number of Chinese cities, along with calls to boycott Japanese goods.

Protests called off

However, Li said protests in Chinese cities had been called off following the release of the activists on Friday, although he denied that this was a result of official pressure.

"We have canceled today's event because our key demand has been met, in that the Diaoyu activists have returned home from Japan," Li said. "This has nothing to do with [official] pressure."

"As for the protests in other places in China, they were spontaneous, so I can't really comment on them," he said.

However, Diaoyu activist Zhang Likun, who also landed on the islands in a similar protest in 2004, said that activists across China who were traveling to attend anti-Japanese protests in Beijing had received phone calls from local officials warning them to call off any further protests.

"Some were turned back en route, while some were stopped in the Beijing metro," Zhang said. "There were really a lot, and they came from the northeast, from Hebei, Hunan, and so on."

"I am very happy that we succeeded in landing on the islands, but sad that we didn't see any naval vessels sent by the People's Liberation Army to protect [the activists]," he added.

Chinese official newspapers appeared to ease up on the nationalist rhetoric on Friday, but published "feature articles" describing the islands as belonging to China "since ancient times."

Mass movement

China's leaders, who are currently preparing for a crucial leadership transition later in the year, have been careful throughout the dispute not to encourage a mass nationalistic movement they cannot control, but are also anxious to avoid being seen as soft on Japan, a country many Chinese still associate with wartime brutality.

"The Diaoyu islands, in the East China Sea between China and Japan, have belonged to China since ancient times," the official Xinhua news agency wrote in a feature article on Friday.

It said the islands are "geologically attached to Taiwan," which Beijing claims as its territory awaiting reunification.

"The islands [have] appeared on China's map since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)," the agency said.

Japanese nationalists said on Friday they were also preparing to sail to the disputed islands from nearby Okinawa in a flotilla of up to 20 boats.

While the organizers have been refused permission by the Japanese government to land on any of the islands, they are, however, free to sail near them.

They said this week that they planned to hold a brief ceremony aboard their boats, anchored "within touching distance'' of the islands.

The group will include eight members of Japan's parliament and 16 local politicians, who aim to "reassert Japanese ownership" of the islands, Agence France-Presse reported.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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