HONG KONG – Activists on a Hong Kong ship seeking to assert China’s claim to a group of Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea were expected to reach Taiwan late Monday, and the islands two days later.
The activists, who hail from Hong Kong, Macao and Shenzhen, were cruising northward off Shanwei in Guangdong Province at noon Monday, Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV reported.
The vessel is expected to reach the disputed islands on Wednesday, barring interference, said Chan Miu-tak, chairman of the activist group Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands.
Diaoyu is the Chinese name for the disputed isles, which are known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and Tiaoyutai in Taiwan.
Chan said the Bao Diao II (which means “Protect Diaoyu” in Chinese), will be joined by a vessel from Taiwan on Tuesday in a coordinated attempt to reach the islands.
“Our boat could be arriving at the islands Wednesday morning at the earliest,” Chan said, noting that supplies of food and water are scarce.
In Taiwan, Hsieh Meng-lin, a board member of the Chinese Tiaoyutai Defense Association, said the group has chartered a boat and is expected to set sail from Ilan County on the island nation’s northeastern tip on Tuesday.
Members of Chan’s group on Monday petitioned the People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong to send a military escort for protection, noting that Taiwan sent coast guard vessels to escort and protect Taiwanese activists who sailed to the islands last month.
No official emerged from the PLA garrison to meet with the activists or to receive the petition letter, which urged the Chinese military to defend Chinese territory and protect the activists.
The protesters aboard the Hong Kong vessel have said they will tear down Japanese-built structures and plant a Chinese flag to declare sovereignty if they manage to land on the isles, which are protected by the Japan Coast Guard.
Despite its consistent assertions of sovereignty, Beijing has been reluctant to let civilians hold protests on the islets to avoid directly provoking Japan. Authorities in Hong Kong are following suit.
Four Hong Kong marine police officers boarded the vessel Sunday night to stop it from leaving but failed to enter the captain’s bridge, which was locked, and retreated before it headed into international waters.
The Hong Kong Marine Department said in a statement that the license granted to the vessel does not allow for activities other than fishing and that the department has ordered it to turn back.
The Hong Kong government has repeatedly barred protest vessels from leaving local waters since October 2006, when a protest near the islands that saw them clash with Japan Coast Guard vessels.
In a related development, the Japanese government has decided to turn down a request by a group of lawmakers to visit the Senkakus on Sunday to hold a memorial service for those who died in U.S. attacks near the area in 1945, sources close to the matter said Monday.
Japan routinely bans visits to the Senkakus unless they are being made by people on official government business or those who own land there.
China, Japan and Taiwan claim sovereignty over the uninhabited islets. The main island is 186 km northeast of Taiwan’s port city of Keelung and 170 km north of Ishigaki Island, which is part of Okinawa Prefecture.