Japan is preparing to deport a group of 14 activists, journalists and other people from Hong Kong, including seven who landed on one of the Senkaku Islands the previous day, to ratchet down tensions between Tokyo and Beijing, government sources said Thursday.
Of the 14, five were arrested by Okinawa police for landing on the islet of Uotsuri. The other nine, including two who returned to the vessel after setting foot on the islet, were arrested by the Japan Coast Guard.
Both the police and the coast guard decided Thursday not to pursue indictments against the 14. Instead, they will be handed over to immigration authorities for deportation, sources said.
The vessel was chartered by a Hong-Kong based activist group that wanted to plant a flag on the islet to assert China’s claim of sovereignty over the Japan-controlled islets, which are situated in the East China Sea to the west of Okinawa.
Japan has lodged a protest with China over the landing by the Hong Kong group. China is demanding that Japan free the activists and the others who were rounded up in what it said was an act of illegal detention.
In Taiwan, the Foreign Ministry on Thursday urged Japan to quickly release the activists, saying the arrests are not conducive to regional peace and stability.
China and Taiwan claim sovereignty over the uninhabited islets, which are called Diaoyu in China and Tiaoyutai in Taiwan.
The 14, who were arrested for violating immigration law, were transported Thursday morning to Naha, Okinawa Prefecture. The coast guard was also set to investigate the protest vessel after towing it to the nearby Okinawa island of Ishigaki, which has jurisdiction over the Senkakus.
Those arrested include a Hong Kong TV reporter and cameraman, the coast guard said.
A government official said the authorities handling the case are likely to use the “same measure” as they did in March 2004, when seven Chinese activists were arrested over a similar Senkaku landing. The seven were deported.
The five arrested Wednesday by the police are Chinese between the ages of 35 and 66. They deny breaking Japanese law and assert that the Senkakus are Chinese territory and that they do not need passports to visit them, the Okinawa police said.
A Chinese newspaper said Thursday that China will never accept any Japanese legal action against its activists and called for their immediate and unconditional release.
“China should by no means accept Japan’s legal steps. No other compromise should be made by the Chinese side either,” the Global Times, which is under the auspices of the People’s Daily, the newspaper of the Communist Party of China, said in an editorial.
On Thursday morning, two Chinese in front of the Japanese Embassy in Beijing separately called for the release of the activists, whom they said were defending the islands. A man showed the media a piece of paper reading: “Release those who defend the Diaoyu Islands immediately and unconditionally.”
Dozens of people were seen in TV clips rallying at the Japanese Consulate General in Shanghai, holding banners that claim Chinese sovereignty over the islands and calling for the unconditional release of the activists. Similar protests were staged at the Japanese Consulate General in Hong Kong.
Chinese scholars are watching the two governments closely to see if they can deal with the incident without escalating tensions.