EAST CHINA SEA--Ten Japanese nationalists landed early on Aug. 19 on a rocky island in the East China Sea at the heart of a territorial row with Beijing, with protests in several Chinese cities also indicating ties were worsening between Asia's two biggest economies.
Swimming from their boats, the 10 Japanese made an unauthorized landing on Uotsurijima, one of the Senkaku Islands in Ishigaki city, Okinawa Prefecture, and put up Hinomaru national flags, including two on a lighthouse on the island.
Japanese Coast Guard officers called on the activists to leave the island, and they departed by 10 a.m.
The 10 are from a group of about 150 people who left from Ishigakijima, Miyakojima and Yonagunijima islands on board a flotilla of 21 boats on Aug. 18.
The group reached the waters off Uotsurijima at a little past 5 a.m. on Aug. 19 and started at 6:40 a.m. a ceremony commemorating Japanese killed in World War II. After ending the ceremony, the 10 people landed on the island.
The group aboard the flotilla of boats included eight Diet members from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition Liberal Democratic Party and the Kizuna Party. None of the lawmakers went ashore to the island.
Five of the 10 on the island were local assembly members.
"This is a way of saying to not mess around," Toshio Tamogami, a leader of the Japanese group, said before the flotilla set sail on Aug. 18. "We hope to convey ... both to China and the Japanese people that the Senkakus are our territory."
The Japanese government had denied the group permission to land on the islands, which it leases from private Japanese citizens.
"The illegal behavior of Japanese right-wingers has violated China's territorial sovereignty," China's foreign ministry said in a statement on Aug. 19.
"An official from the foreign ministry has solemnly expressed to the Japanese ambassador in China (our) strong protest, and urge the Japanese side to stop behaviors that hurt China's territorial sovereignty."
More than 100 protesters gathered near the Japanese Consulate in southern Guangzhou, waving Chinese flags and banners urging the Japanese to leave the islands, the Xinhua news agency reported.
Protesters also gathered in the cities of Shenzhen, Qingdao and Harbin, the news agency said.
Tokyo and Beijing have been feuding for decades over the island chain, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and Diaoyu in China, near potentially huge maritime gas fields.
Tensions flared last week after seven of a group of 14 Chinese activists slipped past Japan's Coast Guard to land on one of the uninhabited isles and raised a Chinese flag.
Japan, keen to avoid a rerun of a nasty feud that chilled economic and diplomatic ties in 2010, deported the activists within days, but the dispute still rankles.
The renewed maritime tension with China has parallels with Beijing's other recent tangles with Southeast Asian countries over rival territorial claims in the South China Sea.
China's expanding naval reach has fed worries that it could brandish its military might to get its way.
Relations have long been plagued by China's bitter memories of Tokyo's past military occupation and Tokyo's concerns about Beijing's rising clout.
The Sino-Japanese row has intensified in recent months since the nationalist governor of Tokyo proposed the Tokyo metropolitan government buy the isles, prompting the central government to make its own bid to purchase them instead.
Japan's ties with South Korea, where resentment over its 1910-1945 colonization still remains, have also frayed since South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited Takeshima, an uninhabited island claimed by both countries.
About 30 South Koreans held a ceremony on Aug. 19 to unveil a monument on one of the barely inhabited islands, which are known as Dokdo in South Korea. The 1.2-metre tall monument is engraved with the Korean word for "Dokdo" on the front and "Republic of Korea" in Lee's handwriting on the back.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, his ratings in tatters ahead of an election that may come soon, faces domestic pressure to take tough stances in the rows with Japan's neighbors. This is despite their deep economic links and efforts by Seoul and Tokyo, both close U.S. allies, to forge closer security ties.
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