TOKYO — Japanese activists have landed on disputed islands in the East China Sea amid escalating diplomatic tensions with China. The landing came two days after Japanese authorities expelled Chinese activists who had landed in the same islands carrying the flags of China and Taiwan.
The Japanese activists, including local assembly members, landed Sunday on one of the disputed islands known in Japan as Senkaku. Controlled by Japan, the uninhabited islands are also claimed by China and Taiwan, where they are called Diaoyu. The area is rich in natural gas and fishing resources.
The Japanese group sailed to the islands aboard a flotilla carrying about 150 people, ostensibly to commemorate the sinking of a ship during the closing stages of World War Two.
Japanese media reports say five local lawmakers, most of them from Tokyo, and five journalists managed to disembark despite being denied official permission. Television images showed them waving Japanese flags on the rocky shore.
Lawmaker Koichi Mukoyama, from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, was aboard one of the ships in the flotilla.
"Four days ago, there was an illegal landing of Chinese people on the island, as such, we need to solidly reaffirm that the islands are part of our own territory," he said.
Another DPJ lawmaker, Koichiro Katsumata, also stressed the need to emphasize Japan’s sovereignty.
"We're in a critical situation" he says, "because Japan's management of the islands is insufficient. There's only limited physical evidence to show to the world that this is our territory."
China’s Foreign Ministry has condemned the landings, saying they are an attempt to undermine the country’s sovereignty.
Anti-Japanese demonstrations that began after the arrest and deportation of Chinese activists last week are also intensifying. Television images showed protestors in the city of Shenzhen overturning Japanese-made cars, including a police vehicle.
Japan’s ambassador in Beijing was quoted as urging Chinese authorities to do their utmost to protect Japanese interests in the country.