The Japanese landings on one of the Senkaku Islands on Aug. 19 raised concerns about heightened tensions with China, but Tokyo rejected Beijing’s protests and conservative politicians quietly lauded the nationalists’ actions.
The tit-for-tat over the disputed islands in the East China Sea continued after 10 Japanese nationals, including five local assembly members, landed on Uotsurishima island and planted a Hinomaru rising-sun flag. Their move followed Japan’s deportation of Hong Kong-based activists who had earlier landed on the island, which sparked anti-Japanese demonstrations across China on Aug. 19.
“(The landings) came at a bad time. We are afraid that Japan and China will both exchange recriminations,” a senior official at the prime minister’s office said.
At a news conference on Aug. 20, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said the landings were “regrettable,” but he reiterated that the Senkaku Islands are an integral part of Japanese territory.
He also said Japan cannot accept the protests from China and Taiwan, which also claims the islands.
The long-running territorial dispute escalated after Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara in February announced his government would buy the islands from the landowner in Saitama Prefecture, prompting the central government to announce its own plan to buy the islands, which Chinese call Diaoyu Islands.
To demonstrate China’s claims of sovereignty over the isles, Hong Kong activists landed on Uotsurishima island on Aug. 15.
“China is not making its own move but is reacting to Japan’s move,” a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official said. “The landings (of Japanese nationals) today will have an adverse effect.”
Japan tried to quell the situation by deporting the Hong Kong activists without seeking criminal responsibility. But the landings of the Japanese rekindled the anger of the Chinese government.
On Aug. 19, China’s vice foreign minister, Fu Ying, telephoned Uichiro Niwa, Japan’s ambassador to China, to lodge a “strong” protest against the landings of the Japanese nationals. Niwa, however, said Tokyo cannot accept the protest.
Taiwan’s foreign minister, Timothy Yang, also protested after summoning Japan’s de facto representative to the island republic.
A number of influential Japanese politicians were sympathetic with the Japanese who landed on Uotsurishima.
“I can understand how they felt after the landings of the Hong Kong-based activists,” Seiji Maehara, chairman of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s Policy Research Committee, told a television program.
Shinzo Abe, a former prime minister and member of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, said, “I think they acted out of love for their country.”
The 10 individuals jumped into the sea and swam to Uotsurishima after about 160 people, including eight Diet members, held a memorial service for the war dead on 21 ships.
On the island, the Japanese raised a Hinomaru flag at a lighthouse and prayed at a monument for those killed in World War II. They returned to a ship after two hours at the urging of Japan Coast Guard officials aboard a patrol boat.
“The Senkaku Islands offer a wonderful view. We should turn them into inhabited islands in phases,” Akira Koiso, a Tokyo metropolitan assembly member who swam to Uotsurishima, said at a news conference on Ishigakijima island in Okinawa Prefecture on Aug. 19.
Eiji Kosaka, a member of Tokyo’s Arakawa Ward assembly, said, “We had to resort to such a means because the government has not taken any action to show that the islands are Japanese territory.”
The three other assembly members who landed on the island are from Tokyo’s Suginami Ward, Hyogo Prefecture and the city of Toride, Ibaraki Prefecture.
Okinawa prefectural police questioned the 10 Japanese on a voluntary basis on Aug. 20.
The central government has made the islands off-limits, and the group of Diet members that organized the memorial service had been denied permission to land.
According to Okinawa prefectural police, Japanese individuals, including Ishigaki city assembly members, landed on the Senkaku Islands in January and July.
In both cases, police did not take action although they questioned those involved on a voluntary basis.
Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, senior vice foreign minister, said the government will not allow anyone to land on the Senkaku Islands next time.
However, Vice Foreign Minister Kenichiro Sasae was apparently preoccupied with the anti-Japanese demonstrations in China.
“The latest move comes against a backdrop of the landings of the Hong Kong-based activists,” Sasae told Cheng Yonghua, China’s ambassador to Japan, who telephoned him to lodge a protest. “The Japanese national flag was burned in some demonstrations. We strongly protest.”
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