In apparent defiance of China, four members of the Ishigaki Municipal Assembly in Okinawa Prefecture landed Tuesday morning on one of the disputed Senkaku Islands.
A Japan Coast Guard patrol ship confirmed that three members of the assembly landed on Uotsuri Island at around 9:30 a.m. and the fourth came ashore 20 minutes later. Although the islets are under Ishigaki jurisdiction, the central government has urged people to stay away from them to avoid riling China, which also claims the territory and calls it Diaoyu.
The politicians, including Hitoshi Nakama and Tadashi Nakamine, left Ishigaki port on a fishing boat at around 10:40 p.m. Monday, according to the coast guard. The names of the other two assembly members were not immediately available.
Conservative politicians at the local and national levels have used the dispute to take a hardline stance toward China at a time when Beijing is expanding its naval assertiveness.
Ishigaki Mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama, however, urged restraint Tuesday. He said that anyone seeking to go to the islets first obtain the central government’s approval.
“I wonder if their action can be justified” in terms of legal procedures, the mayor said.
The Ishigaki Municipal Assembly enacted an ordinance in 2010 to designate every Jan. 14 as the day to mark the Meiji government’s decision to incorporate the Senkakus into Japan on Jan. 14, 1895.
Chinese activists were quick to react to Tuesday’s landing. Some departed for the disputed isles to advocate Chinese sovereignty.
“Whether or not the Japanese (assemblymen) landed on the islands, our plan will not be affected,” said Chan Miu-tak, the Hong Kong chapter representative of the World Chinese Alliance in Defense of Diaoyu Islands.
But the protesters’ voyage was aborted after their vessel, the Diaoyu 2, was stopped by the Chinese coast guard.
The activists said they were told the only visits allowed to the disputed islands must be for fishing purposes.