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Protests across China after Japanese swimmers 'invade' disputed islands

Ten Japanese people – including five councillors – landed on the main island of an archipelago also claimed by China and Taiwan.

Japanese activists hold their national flag on Uotsuri island, one of the islands which is also claimed by China and Taiwan.
Japanese activists hold their national flag on Uotsuri island, one of the islands which is also claimed by China and Taiwan.
Image: AP Photo/Kyodo News

JAPAN’S TERRITORIAL DISPUTES with its neighbours took another turn today, as a group of nationalist activists swam ashore and raised flags on an island which is also claimed by China.

Chinese people took to streets in several cities in protest, as Beijing lodged a formal complaint with Tokyo asking it to prevent frictions from escalating further.

Ten Japanese made an unauthorised landing on Uotsuri, the largest in a small archipelago known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands and in China as the Diaoyu Islands.

The uninhabited islands – surrounded by rich fishing grounds, and in close proximity to gas fields – are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan.

Of the 10 who visited the island, five were conservative local assembly members.

“The Senkakus are undoubtedly Japanese territory. It is to be expected that Japanese would take that to heart,” said Eiji Kosaka, an assemblyman from Tokyo’s Arakawa district.

China’s foreign ministry protested, summoning Japan’s ambassador to voice its complaints.

“The Japanese side should properly handle the current issue and avoid seriously damaging the overall situation of China-Japan relations,” ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement.

Japan’s foreign ministry said, however, that it had rejected a complaint by China’s ambassador to Japan, Cheng Yonghua.

The ministry said Tokyo’s deputy foreign minister Kenichiro Sasae had spoken to Cheng by phone, telling him that the protests in China were “regrettable” and urged Chinese authorities to ensure the safety of tens of thousands of Japanese citizens there.

Widespread protests

China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported protests in cities across the country. Demonstrators burned Japanese flags, overturned or smashed Japanese-brand cars and in some places smashed windows of Japan-related businesses.

Days earlier, a group of 14 Hong Kong residents and mainland Chinese had traveled by boat to the islands, some swimming ashore. Protesters in Beijing, Hong Kong and other cities praised them as heroes and burned Japanese flags, but Japan arrested the 14 for landing without authorisation.

On Friday, Tokyo deported the group, seeking to quiet the regional spat. But plans for further visits by activists on both sides appear likely to further inflame the territorial tensions.

Taiwanese foreign minister Timothy Yang summoned Japan’s de facto ambassador to Taiwan, Sumio Tarui, today to lodge a protest over the visit by the Japanese activists to the islands, which are about 120 miles off Taiwan’s north-eastern coast.

Yang said the “provocative act” had heightened tensions in the area, according to a ministry statement.

The spat over long-contested territories comes as China’s ruling Communist Party prepares for a major leadership transition. Leaders in both China and Japan face strong domestic pressure to defend national interests.

Frictions have also flared recently over another set of disputed islands, controlled by South Korea.

Read: Japan may ask international court to rule on disputed islands

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Associated Press

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