Chinese activists deported from Japan for sailing to Japanese-controlled isles in the East China Sea returned to Hong Kong Friday, with supporters giving them a hero’s welcome at the airport.
Families, friends and supporters waved Chinese flags and held up a welcome banner as they greeted five activists, a Hong Kong-based television reporter and a cameraman who flew back to Hong Kong on a commercial flight.
Japan on Friday deported all 14 people who sailed to one of the Senkaku Islands, known in China as Diaoyu, arriving there Wednesday.
Seven were sent back to Hong Kong by air and the rest were allowed to leave Japan with the fishing boat that took them to the islands.
“The Diaoyu islands are Chinese territory. Japan out of Diaoyu,” the activists chanted on arrival at the airport.
“We have overcome challenge after challenge,” Tsang Kin-shing, one of the activists, told about 100 reporters gathered at the airport lobby. “It is Japan that is being virulent for arresting and charging us on Chinese territory.”
Tsang said the trip will not be their last.
“When opportunities arrive, we will go (to the islands) again to assert Chinese sovereignty until the Chinese and Taiwan government figure out a way to solve the issue,” he said.
“We had no help from the Chinese government in our attempt,” said Lo Chung-cheung, one of the activists, of their three-day trip from Hong Kong to the Senkaku Islands.
“The sea was so rough that I had nothing left to throw up. But once we saw the Japanese coming at us, we all got excited. We were throwing batteries and broken bricks at the Japanese vessels,” Lo said.
Speaking to the television reporter aboard the plane waiting for takeoff from Naha airport in Okinawa, the activists slammed Japan for arresting them after seven went ashore on Uotsuri Island, the largest of the five main islands in the Senkaku group, calling their arrest “illegal detention.”
Hsieh Meng-lin, a board member of the Chinese Tiaoyutai Defense Association in Taiwan who came to greet the activists’ return, said it is regretful their group could not join the Hong Kong activists.
“But we are happy for whoever reached the islands,” Hsieh said. “We will go again if there are opportunities.”
The protest was originally planned as a joint operation with vessels from Taiwan and mainland China, but authorities in China and Taiwan banned local activists from joining the Hong Kong vessel.
Chan Yu-nam, local commander of the Hong Kong group, has demanded an apology from Japan for detaining the activists and said the group may consider asking for compensation from the Japanese government.
Japan decided to deport, instead of prosecute, the 14 in a move seen at aiming to defuse tensions with China, which claims the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea and has demanded the immediate release of the entire group.
Whether the measure will appease China anytime soon remains uncertain as other activists continued to stage protests in front of the Japanese diplomatic missions in Beijing and Shanghai.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and members of his Cabinet gave the green light for the deportations when they met at Noda’s office in the morning to discuss how to handle the latest landing incident, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a news conference afterward.
Noda and the Cabinet also decided to speed up measures to prevent a recurrence of similar intrusions, Fujimura said.
Measures are likely to include stricter security surveillance and tougher laws, officials said.
Jin Matsubara, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, told reporters he said during the meeting convened over the Senkaku intruders that there is a need to impose more serious punishment for those who trespass and infringe on Japan’s sovereignty.