Bloomberg News

China Calls on Japan to Release Arrested Island Activists

August 16, 2012

Japanese LaU.S. Says Disputed Islands Covered by Defense Treaty

An aerial picture from a P3C of Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces shows the Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyu Islands in Chinese and as Senkaku in Japanese, in the East China Sea. Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images

China called on Japan to release Hong Kong activists who landed on an island claimed by both countries, amid reports they may be deported.

China’s Ministry of Commerce is “highly concerned” about the detention of 14 Chinese nationals, Xinhua News Agency said, citing spokesman Shen Danyang. The group may be deported in the next few days, Kyodo News reported, without citing anyone. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda yesterday said the men would be treated “strictly according to Japanese law.”

Energy rights are at the center of the dispute in the East China Sea over the islands, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. The two countries have failed to implement a June 2008 deal to develop a natural gas field in the area and Japan has objected to Chinese drilling nearby.

“Growing competition for the rich energy and fishing resources that lie beneath Asia’s waters is adding an economic incentive for rivalry,” Thomas Berger, a professor of international relations at Boston University, said in e-mailed comments. “The landing and arrest of the Chinese activists on the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands is only the latest sign of troubles ahead.”

The arrests, on the 67th anniversary of the Japanese surrender that ended World War II, came as Japan and South Korea struggled to overcome a separate maritime territorial dispute that has frayed ties. The bickering comes ahead of leadership contests this year in all three countries.

The collision of a Chinese fishing boat with two Japanese Coast Guard vessels near the islands in September 2010 sent bilateral relations to the lowest level in at least five years. The captain of the boat was detained for 17 days before being released.

Flag Planted

The activists, called the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, planted a Chinese flag on the island before being detained, the Japanese Coast Guard said in a statement. Five of the 14 were arrested for landing on the island and violating immigration laws, according to the statement.

The Chinese government lodged “solemn representations” with Japan over the “illegal detention” of Chinese nationals, Xinhua said. Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying summoned Japanese Consul-General Yuji Kumamaru to express his concerns, the city government said in a press release.

A Japanese group of about 150 people, including some lawmakers, plan to sail a boat near the islands on Aug. 19. Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara in April said the metropolitan government was seeking to buy the islands from a private Japanese family that owns them, sparking outrage in China.

Historical Legacy

Japan’s aggression in the first half of the 20th century continues to play a part in its regional relations. While Noda yesterday expressed “profound remorse” for Japan causing “tremendous damage and suffering” during the war, two of his ministers visited a controversial war shrine in Tokyo seen in China and Korea as a symbol of the period.

“Chain links tangled in the history of Korea-Japan relations are hampering the common march toward a better tomorrow in Northeast Asia,” South Korean President Lee Myung Bak said yesterday in Seoul to mark Liberation Day.

His Aug. 10 trip to a string of islets also claimed by Japan eroded bilateral ties, with Japan recalling its ambassador to South Korea in protest. The opposition Liberal Democratic Party today called on the Noda government to reconsider its policy on South Korea, including whether to renew a $70 billion currency swap accord.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura yesterday said the government wasn’t reconsidering the agreement.

Gas Reserves

The rocks, called Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean, lie 87 kilometers (54 miles) east of the closest South Korean territory and 158 kilometers from the nearest Japanese land, and are near fishing grounds and natural gas reserves.

Lee reiterated his call for the Japanese government to compensate Korean women forced into prostitution during World War II. As many as 200,000 women, mostly from Korea and China, were forced into sexual servitude during Japan’s colonial period. Japan apologized in 1993 and set up a compensation fund that some victims rejected because it was funded through private contributions.

National Public Safety Commission Chairman Jin Matsubara and Land Minister Yuichiro Hata became the first cabinet members to go to Yasukuni Shrine, whose honorees include men convicted of war crimes, since Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan came to power in 2009 pledging to improve ties with China and South Korea.

To contact the reporter on this story: Takashi Hirokawa in Tokyo at thirokawa@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net


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