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China Protests Detention of Activists by Japan - 2004-03-25

China is protesting Japan's detention of Chinese activists who landed on a disputed island in the East China Sea. Japan says it plans to return the activists to China after questioning them. The detention of the seven men has prompted protests outside the Japanese Embassy in the Chinese capital.

About 20 demonstrators gathered outside the Japanese Embassy Thursday. They sang the Chinese national anthem, piled Japanese flags on the ground, and set them on fire.

They were protesting Japan's detention of seven Chinese activists, who managed to sneak past the Japanese coast guard on Wednesday to land on a tiny island in a chain that China claims.

The chain of tiny rock outcroppings, known as the Daioyu in Chinese and the Senkaku in Japanese, are claimed by Beijing, Taipei and Tokyo.

One demonstrator, a 26-year-old student, said organizers brought her and her friends to the embassy on a bus, to show their anger against Japan, and to demand that the disputed islands be recognized as Chinese territory.

"Diaoyu is our territory, and it should return to the motherland," she said.

The rocky clusters are uninhabited, and have been under Japanese control for more than a century. Japan charges that China has only claimed them since the 1970's, after Beijing learned that there might be oil beneath them.

China on Thursday reaffirmed its claim over the islands. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Kong Quan protested Japan's arrest of the Chinese activists.

"This is an illegal action, which breaks international law. Moreover, it is a serious provocation against China' sovereignty and territory and Chinese citizens' human rights," he said.

The issue is likely to come up next week, when Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi visits Beijing. The Japanese government's top spokesman, Yasuo Fukuda, on Thursday said Japan will stick to its claim over the islands.

Mr. Fukuda says he hopes the incident will not hurt the Japan-China relationship. But he says Tokyo maintains its position that the islands are Japanese territory.

The demonstrations are the latest kink in the traditionally strained relations between China and Japan. Many Chinese resent Japan's failure to apologize for atrocities committed by its troops during their occupation of China in the 1930's and '40's.