China has been infuriated by an unusual display of backbone from the Japanese government, which has arrested a group of Chinese who illegally entered Japan in order to plant communist flags on the Senkaku islands.
A group of 14 “activists” from Hong Kong chartered a ship and sailed to the disputed Senkaku islands, a cluster of uninhabited islands in the south of Okinawa prefecture which are also claimed by China and Taiwan, in the hopes of somehow reinforcing China’s claim.
The Hong Kong group was due to be joined by other activists from Taiwan, but at the last minute their venture fell apart when the owner of their vessel refused to loan it to them for the expedition.
The 14 activists from Hong Kong made it to the islands and managed to get 5 members ashore before Japanese authorities cut their “protest” short.
Japan’s coast guard soon came under fire for standing by and letting them reach the island and disembark, but this was tempered by the rapid response of Okinawa police and immigration officials, who promptly arrived and arrested 5 people found on the islands for illegally entering the country.
Japanese authorities in fact arrested all 14 activists, prompting a demand for their unconditional release from China’s foreign ministry, which regards them to have been in Chinese territory and so illegally detained.
The activists themselves also maintain they were in Chinese territory and so did nothing wrong.
However, for once Japan appears to be having none of it – the prime minister held a press conference in which he said he wanted to “see them dealt with strictly and in accordance with the law.”
Tokyo mayor and prospective overlord of the islands Shintaro Ishihara also piped in, saying they “should be solemnly tried in accordance with the laws of the land.”
However, the coast guard blamed its failure to stop them getting ashore in the first place on orders from on high – “we complied with the government’s overall policy of ensuring minimal risk of injury to either party by avoiding taking any rough measures.”
Illegally entering the country is a criminal offence under Japanese law and carries a maximum penalty of 3 years in prison, although temporary detention and prompt deportation is more usual, and appears to be what the Japanese government has in mind for them – in fact, in 2004 when Chinese activists trespassed in similar fashion, this is exactly what happened.
Public opinion in Japan appears to largely have run out of patience for both the constant efforts of their neighbours to trample them underfoot and their own government’s efforts to make the process easier by grovelling at their feet, although there is not much expectation that they will do anything more than call the inevitable Chinese escalation “regrettable.”