Japan is considering deporting 14 pro-China activists arrested for landing without authorization on the disputed Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) in the East China Sea, as harsh criticisms and repeated demands for their release erupted yesterday in China.
The protesters had traveled by boat from Hong Kong to the uninhabited islands controlled by Japan, but also claimed by Taiwan and China. They were arrested on Wednesday after they landed on one of the five-island group.
Japanese police and coast guard officials were questioning the protesters in Okinawa yesterday and coast guard officials said Japan had to decide whether to pursue a criminal investigation or repatriate them by tonight.
“We are considering various options, including a possibility of repatriation,” coast guard official Yoshiyuki Terakado said.
He said Japan would make a decision on all 14 people by tonight, although he declined to elaborate. Japanese media reports said the activists were most likely to be deported.
Chinese activists last landed on the island in 1996 and seven who were arrested were repatriated quickly.
China’s state media yesterday said Japan’s handling of the activists was hurting bilateral relations and that Beijing would engage in strong diplomacy with Tokyo.
“The real test of power comes in the diplomatic tussle between China and Japan after the landing,” the state-run Global Times said in an editorial. “China should insist that any so-called lawful trial by Japan is unacceptable and that no concession shall be made.”
In Beijing, dozens of people rallied outside the Japanese embassy, demanding the protesters’ release and chanting anti-Japanese slogans. The activists have also won overwhelming support online and Chinese consumers have started boycotting Japanese products.
In Hong Kong, supporters marched to a Japanese consulate building, demanding the activists’ immediate release. Some of the participants burned Japanese flags.
China dispatched Tokyo embassy officials and Hong Kong immigration officials to assist the activists.
Yesterday, they met two of the detainees, who were “in good health and good spirits,” activists’ spokesman David Koh told Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK.
The handling of the arrested activists is extremely sensitive. Japan has the option of repatriating them or sending them to a criminal court.
The US, Japan’s key ally, said it would not take sides and urged calm among the involved parties.
“We expect the claimants to resolve the issue through peaceful measures and any kind of provocations are not helpful in that regard,” US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Wednesday.