HONG KONG – A group of Hong Kong activists set sail Sunday for a cluster of Japanese-controlled isles in the East China Sea to assert China’s sovereignty over them.
“Japan out of the Diaoyu islands! Down with Japanese militarism!” the activists chanted as dozens of mainland tourists and local residents looked on at Tsim Sha Tsui pier before the protest vessel Bao Diao II set sail.
Chan Miu-tak, chairman of an activist group called Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, said the “protect Diaoyu” boat will be joined at sea on Tuesday by two other vessels, one from Xiamen in southern China and another from Taiwan, in a coordinated attempt to sail to the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan, Diaoyu in China, and Tiaoyutai in Taiwan.
The coordinated moves come amid a diplomatic rift between Tokyo and Seoul over South Korean President Lee Myung Bak’s unprecedented visit Friday to South Korean-controlled islets claimed by Tokyo.
“Japanese lawmakers are planning to land on the islands on Aug. 19; we want to reach there before they do,” Chan said.
“The Diaoyu islands are Chinese territory. We will fight for the sovereignty of the Chinese nation,” he said.
Lo Chau, owner of the Bao Diao II, which is carrying activists from Hong Kong, Macau and Shenzhen, said he hopes Hong Kong authorities will not interfere with their attempt to reach the islands.
“Japan invaded (China), and today they invade the Diaoyu islands,” he said.
The Hong Kong government has repeatedly barred protest vessels from leaving Hong Kong waters.
Despite its consistent assertions of sovereignty over the islets, Beijing has been reluctant to allow civilian protests to prevent direct conflict with Japan. Hong Kong has been doing the same.
The Hong Kong activists’ group said it has asked China to send a military escort to protect the Bao Diao II, noting that Taiwan sent coast guard vessels to escort and protect Taiwan activists when they sailed to the islands last month.
“If Japan should strongly protest the South Korean president’s visit (to the disputed islets), Beijing should also act strongly to protect Diaoyu islands,” group member David Ko said.
China, Japan and Taiwan claim sovereignty over the uninhabited islets, which are situated 186 km northeast of the port city of Keelung on the northeastern coast of Taiwan and 170 km north of Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture.