Skip to main content

After flag-raising on island, 14 Chinese held in Japan

By Elizabeth Yuan, CNN
August 17, 2012 -- Updated 0229 GMT (1029 HKT)
Activists carry Chinese and Taiwan flags on the disputed island known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China Wednesday.
Activists carry Chinese and Taiwan flags on the disputed island known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China Wednesday.
  • 14 Chinese activists arrested by Japanese authorities at disputed islands
  • Japan calls "Senkaku Islands" its sovereign territory; China claims "Diaoyu" islands as its own
  • Six arrested are from Hong Kong, including former politician, Immigration department says
  • China and Hong Kong demand immediate release; incident coincides with WWII anniversary

Hong Kong (CNN) -- A diplomatic row has erupted between Japan and China after a group of Chinese nationals were photographed raising flags on a disputed island in the East China Sea before being arrested, the latest incident in rising territorial tensions in North Asia.

Japanese authorities on Wednesday arrested 14 Chinese activists at the disputed islands.

"We will deal with the issue sternly based on the law," Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told reporters Wednesday night, as Japan's foreign ministry summoned the Chinese ambassador to protest strongly what it called an illegal landing.

In a press conference, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said, "Senkaku Islands are our sovereign territory historically and in the international law. We are controlling the islands effectively." He said the activists were given repeated warnings and that their landing was "very regrettable."

China says it has sovereignty over the East China Sea islands, which it calls Diaoyu, and has urged Japan to immediately release the detained citizens.

On Wednesday Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying summoned the Japanese ambassador and phoned her Japanese counterpart to "lodge solemn representation over Japan's illegal arrest," according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

In Hong Kong, Chief Executive C.Y. Leung summoned Japanese Consul-General Yuji Kumamaru, expressing similar "extreme" concern. Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China.

Japan arrests 14 pro-China activists

Five of the men who landed on the islands were taken into custody by Okinawa police, while the nine others on the vessel were detained by the Japan Coast Guard.

Japan raises funds for disputed islands

At least six are from Hong Kong, including former Legislative Council member "Bull" Tsang Kin-shing, according to the Hong Kong Immigration Department, which on Thursday sent two officers to Okinawa, Japan, where the group is being detained. Leading the activists is the Hong Kong-based Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands.

Senkaku Islands are our sovereign territory historically and in the international law
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura

In addition to Tsang, the group included a labor union chairman, a teacher, two TV journalists and seven crew members, according to lists provided by the police and coast guard. The Hong Kong-registered fishing vessel, which had set sail on Sunday, was detained and the men charged with violating the immigration control and refugee recognition act, according to Japanese and Hong Kong authorities.

According to the Hong Kong group's Twitter account, they planned to demolish the Japanese lighthouse on the island, sing the national anthem and set up a television and radio to receive Chinese broadcasts.

A tweet three hours later reassured readers of their safety and eventual return after being "invited to stay in Okinawa overnight to have sushi and ramen."

A picture of the activists showed a Taiwan flag being borne; it was not clear whether the self-identified Chinese nationals included anyone from Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.

The arrests have led to anti-Japanese protests in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing.

The Wednesday incident coincided with the 67th anniversary of Japan's official World War II surrender. On the same day, two Japanese Cabinet ministers visited the controversial Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, which honors Japan's war dead as well as war criminals.

China and South Korea, given their respective wartime occupation and colonization by Japan, have condemned such visits.

Adding to the regional tensions before the anniversary was South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's visit to what the country calls Dokdo, a small group of islets that Japan claims as Takeshima. The move prompted Japan to recall its ambassador to Seoul.

On Tuesday, Lee said in remarks to teachers that Japanese Emperor Akihito should make a "sincere apology" for suffering under Japanese colonial rule.

The following day, amateur South Korean athletes, including the rock singer Kim Jang-hoon, swam in a 49-hour, 220-kilometer relay toward the island to mark the anniversary of their country's independence from Japan in 1945.

CNN's Steven Jiang, Alexis Lai, Junko Ogura and Yoko Wakatsuki contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.