Japan's Coast Guard has intercepted a group of Chinese protesters aboard a fishing boat near a disputed group of islands. It was the latest encounter between Japan and China in a territorial dispute that dates back more than a century.
Sixteen patrol boats and a helicopter from the Japanese Coast Guard prevented the Chinese-flagged fishing boat from landing on the disputed islands.
Activists in Hong Kong said the attempted landing was the first joint action, concerning the islands, between mainland Chinese and Hong Kong protesters.
Eleven mainland Chinese and two activists from Hong Kong were reported to be aboard the vessel, which departed from China's Zhejiang Province. Supporters said the protesters burned a Japanese flag, but gave up attempting to land because many aboard were suffering seasickness.
The tiny islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, are claimed by Tokyo, Beijing, and Taipei. The uninhabited rocky outcroppings lie 140 kilometers northeast of Taiwan and 500 kilometers southwest of Japan's Okinawa prefecture.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary said that in Tokyo's mind there is no question about sovereignty. Yasuo Fukuda said since the islands are without a doubt Japanese territory, historically and politically, attempted incursions must be dealt with in accordance with Japanese law.
Hong Kong legislator Albert Ho has been involved in previous voyages to the area, he said the drive to take control of the islands originates with Japan's past. "This movement is more than a patriotic movement. This movement, to us, is part of a greater movement against the re-emergence of Japanese aggression. … We have consistently embarked on this movement because we thought that Japan had not recognized the mistakes it made during the Second World War," Mr. Ho said.
Japan took over the eight uninhabited islands when it annexed Taiwan in 1895. After World War II, the United States controlled the islands, along with Okinawa, until they were returned to Japanese control in 1972.
Chinese anger was re-ignited in January after it was learned that the Japanese government was leasing three of the islands from a private owner to tighten its control over them.
A Chinese newspaper recently accused the Japanese government of teaming up with ultra-rightist organizations to keep a grip on the islands. The article called the act disrespectful of the feelings of Chinese people.
In 1996, Japanese right-wing extremists angered Chinese and Taiwanese authorities by building a lighthouse on one of the islands.