News / Asia

Chinese Activists Return From Expedition to Disputed Island

Captain Why Yang of Hong Kong fishing vessel "Kai Fung No.2" waves next to a Chinese national flag as he reaches in Hong Kong's island of Cheung Chau, August 22, 2012. Captain Why Yang of Hong Kong fishing vessel "Kai Fung No.2" waves next to a Chinese national flag as he reaches in Hong Kong's island of Cheung Chau, August 22, 2012.
x
Captain Why Yang of Hong Kong fishing vessel "Kai Fung No.2" waves next to a Chinese national flag as he reaches in Hong Kong's island of Cheung Chau, August 22, 2012.
Captain Why Yang of Hong Kong fishing vessel "Kai Fung No.2" waves next to a Chinese national flag as he reaches in Hong Kong's island of Cheung Chau, August 22, 2012.
Ivan Broadhead
HONG KONG — After causing a diplomatic incident by planting the Chinese flag on the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands last week, a group of Chinese nationalists from Hong Kong arrived home Wednesday. Their announcement of a plan to return to the disputed islands, known as the Diaoyus in Chinese, threatens to escalate tensions between Beijing and Tokyo.

The fishing boat Kai Fung 2 slipped into Hong Kong Wednesday, its seven-man crew greeted as Chinese patriots after landing on the disputed Senkaku islands August 15, the anniversary of Japan’s World War II surrender.

Diplomatic incident

The activists sailed home from Okinawa after they were released from Japanese custody, having challenged Tokyo’s sovereignty over the territory located in the East China Sea, some 160 kilometers from Taiwan, 400 kilometers from Okinawa.

David Ko of the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, the group that organized the mission, accuses Japanese authorities of mistreating the detained crew.

"The room they were locked in was small and they had to urinate in a bottle," he said. "As you can see from the TV, at times they were handcuffed with a rope tied around their waist. As far as we’re concerned, that’s humiliating."

The islands constitute eight rocks measuring scarcely seven square kilometers. But their waters contain rich fishing grounds and potentially significant oil reserves.

Japanese landing

The action provoked Japanese nationalists to stage their own landing on the uninhabited islands this week. This sparked the largest anti-Japanese protests in China since 2005.

Despite Sino-Japanese tensions running high, Ko says plans are now being formulated for the Hong Kong activists to return to the disputed territory later this year.

"Territorial politics are changing," he said. "The Americans have shifted their focus back to the Pacific. And, China is unwilling to be surrounded. This is going to be a trouble spot in the near future - the South China Sea, all the way up to the north China Sea."

Possible policy shift in Beijing

Hong Kong activists make regular efforts to reach the Senkakus, but for two years have been restrained by the authorities in this special administrative region of China.

Analyst Johnny Lau suggests that the fact this was not the case with the Kai Fung 2 indicates a clear policy shift by the central government in Beijing.

"In 2021, Japan will stress it has controlled the Diaoyus for 50 years," he said. "In international law, Japan can [then] officially claim they are under [its] sovereignty. So the Chinese government has to do something to stop this. That is why they will try to use more assistance from the general public."

However, the Basic Law - Hong Kong’s mini-constitution drafted by Britain and China at the end of colonial rule in 1997 - strictly limits Hong Kong’s role in Chinese foreign affairs.

Debate about the constitutionality of the Diaoyu mission is noticeable by its absence. Even Hong Kong media reports that the government chief executive, CY Leung, helped fund the voyage of the Kai Fung 2 provoked little comment.

Any donation made in a private capacity is one thing, says Professor Bing Ling of the faculty of law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.  He says it is quite another if a donation was an official gift from the head of government.

"If that is the case, one would have to ask if the Hong Kong government has obtained authorization from Beijing to participate in and authorize this expedition. Obviously, if it does not have such authorization, it could not and should not have taken a step that directly implicates China in this territorial dispute," he said.

Who are the activists?

What has fueled discussion in Hong Kong about the ship’s mission is the unlikely political constituency represented aboard the Kai Fung 2. The majority of the Hong Kong activists landing on the disputed islands are renowned pro-democracy supporters.

More used to demanding China expand civic freedoms in Hong Kong than fighting the central government’s battles, several have faced jail for opposing Beijing.  However, Lau argues  that it is not inconsistent for pro-democrats to share the Communist Party’s views on pan-Chinese nationalism.

"They are described as dissidents by the Chinese government. But they went to the Diaoyu Islands to show the sovereignty of the Chinese government. [Now] the official Chinese media describes them as national heroes. The protection of the Diaoyus is a very unique issue," said Lau.

Sino-Japanese relations seem unlikely to improve in the short term. Chinese state media criticized Japan Tuesday for beginning a joint military exercise with the United States that they linked to Tokyo’s defense of its island territories.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong activists are planning a day of national protest against Japan September 18, marking the 81st anniversary of the Japanese invasion of northern China. This event, widely known as the Manchurian Incident, preceded the Second Sino-Japanese war by some six years.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid