Fourteen Hong Kong activists, including five who landed on the Senkaku island of Uotsurishima on Aug. 15, have been arrested by the Okinawa prefectural police and the Japan Coast Guard for violating Japan's immigration control law.
They ignored repeated warnings to keep out of Japanese territorial waters. We implore the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities to take steps to prevent a recurrence.
A few days before, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak landed on one of the disputed Takeshima islets. Japan also has territorial disputes with Russia over four islands off Hokkaido. The Japanese government must deal firmly with the governments of China, South Korea and Russia.
The Hong Kong activists said they landed on Uotsurishima to assert Chinese sovereignty over this rocky outcrop in the East China Sea, but their claim is unreasonable.
Their arrest by the Japanese law enforcement authorities only served to reconfirm Japan's de facto control of the Senkaku Islands, where Japanese laws are in force. In a way, the activists have put Beijing at a disadvantage in its territorial dispute with Japan.
The Okinawa police and the Japan Coast Guard intend to hand over the activists to immigration authorities for deportation. This is an appropriate measure, as the activists submitted to arrest without putting up physical resistance or trying to obstruct people in authority going about their official duties. We hope the authorities will continue to practice due process.
The activists are hardcore pro-democracy radicals who also challenge the Chinese Communist Party’s single-party domination. And while they have no direct ties to Beijing, they receive funding from pro-Beijing entrepreneurs.
The Hong Kong government used to stop activists from setting sail, citing such things as illegal modifications of their vessel. But it did not stop them this time, and some observers claim it acted in response to similar intentions from Beijing.
However, a group from the Chinese mainland that intended to join the Hong Kong group was unable to get hold of a vessel, and the Hong Kong activists see Beijing's fingerprints on this.
It is conceivable that Beijing's intention was to defuse domestic tension to some extent by turning a blind eye to the Hong Kong activists' plan while at the same time reining in the mainland group to avoid an excessive souring of ties with Tokyo.
But China is repeatedly sending its patrol vessels to waters near the Senkaku Islands. Also, China's growing naval presence is a cause for concern.
Japan needs to calmly prepare itself to protect its territory. It must constantly ensure the coast guard is up to the task.
Japan and China have clashed repeatedly over the Senkaku Islands, which are known as the Diaoyu Islands in Chinese. China hardened its position, especially after Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara announced the metropolitan government's plan to buy the privately owned islands.
No territorial dispute is ever easy to settle, even when one party's claim is completely legitimate. So long as both parties remain emotional, the situation can only get worse.
A power shift will occur this autumn in China's top leadership. To avoid any undesirable development in such a time of transition, Japan must focus on the big picture and keep up a dialogue with China.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 17
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