Japan's Senkaku party quizzed

China’s gripe over tit-for-tat landing nixed

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

The government will not accept complaints lodged by China over the 10 Japanese nationalists who landed on the Senkaku Islands, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Monday, while also trying to defuse bilateral strains by criticizing the unauthorized trip.

Anti-Japan sentiment has once again heated up in China over last week’s arrest and deportation of a group of Chinese activists from Hong Kong who landed on the Senkaku islet of Uotsuri. And Sunday’s tit-for-tat visit to the same islet is likely to trigger more outrage, something both governments are hoping to avoid.

“That the Senkaku Islands are a part of Japanese territory is not in doubt . . . and China’s demands based on its position over the islands are absolutely unacceptable. But neither side wants the Senkaku Islands issue to affect bilateral ties on a comprehensive level,” Fujimura told reporters Monday morning.

Four of the five uninhabited islets in the East China Sea are technically owned by a family from Saitama and under the jurisdiction of Ishigaki, Okinawa, but rented out to the central government. To prevent diplomatic friction, Tokyo has only allowed state officials to visit the islets.

Okinawa police questioned the 10 Japanese, whose ranks include local-level assembly members, Monday morning. They are reportedly linked to the right-wing group Gambare Nippon (Hang in There Japan). Criminal charges have never been filed against Japanese who landed on the Senkakus in the past, and the current trespassers will also probably elude prosecution. They are not in custody.

Fujimura expressed displeasure over Sunday’s landing. “The government in principle does not permit anyone but government officials to go to the islands, and (Sunday’s) landing is deplorable,” he said. “Authorities will confirm the facts and take appropriate measures.”

Time and time again, Tokyo-Beijing ties have been rocked by sovereignty disputes involving the Senkaku Islands, which are under the effective control of Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan.

Tension over the islands has increased since spring, when hawkish Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara declared the metropolitan government would buy some of the islets from the owner, apparently in a bid to get the territory nationalized.

Ishihara’s move baited the central government into making its own bid for the rest of the islets, triggering resentment from China.

Fujimura also revealed Monday that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government had filed for a permit to visit the Senkakus to conduct surveys before acquiring the islets. But due to lack of necessary information, including who was going to make the trip and when, Fujimura said the government had not formally accepted the request.

Fujimura also said the government will consider releasing video footage of the 14 protesters and journalists from Hong Kong who were taken into custody last week by the Japan Coast Guard because they did not hinder the coast guard’s territorial sea patrols. The Liberal Democratic Party has been seeking the video’s disclosure.

Meanwhile, the 10 Japanese who were questioned by Okinawa police Monday morning said they were asked about the events that led them to land on Uotsuri, and what they did during the time they were on the islet.