- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 15, 2012

TOKYO (AP) — Regional tensions flared on the emotional anniversary of Japan’s World War II surrender as activists from China and South Korea used Wednesday’s occasion to press rival territorial claims, prompting 14 arrests by Japanese authorities.

China’s official Xinhua News Agency said the arrests had caused tensions over its territorial dispute with Japan to surge “to a new high.”

The 14 people had traveled by boat from Hong Kong to a set of uninhabited islands controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan. Japanese police initially arrested five activists who swam ashore in the East China Sea chain, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.

Japan coast guard officers later arrested nine others who stayed on the fishing boat, the Kai Fung 2, including two who had landed earlier on one of the islands and went back on board, officials said. Coast guard officials said the activists are likely to be taken to Naha, the capital of Okinawa prefecture, which has jurisdiction over the islands, for further questioning.

“We want the world to know that this is — way back in history — the territory of China, and as Chinese people we can go there fishing, touring at our own right,” David Ko, a spokesman for the activists, said in a telephone interview from Hong Kong. “The Japanese have no right to stop us.”

Chinese activists last landed on the island in 1996, and seven who were arrested were repatriated quickly.

China urged Japan to refrain from taking any action that could endanger Chinese citizens or their property, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement.

Japan says it has controlled the five main islands for more than 100 years. It has been trying to place four that are privately held under state ownership to bolster its territorial claim.

Chinese patrol vessels have been spotted frequently in the waters, prompting Tokyo to protest repeatedly and beef up its own patrols in the area.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Japan historically and by international law owns the islands and there is no room for its sovereignty to be questioned. He called the trespassing “extremely regrettable.”

The handling of the arrested activists is extremely sensitive. Japan has the option of repatriating them or sending them to criminal court.

Japan’s arrest and weekslong detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain in 2010 after his vessel collided with Japanese patrol boats near the disputed islands triggered the worst diplomatic row in years between the two countries, prompting Beijing to suspend some exports and cancel high-level talks.

Also Wednesday, a group of South Koreans reached another set of disputed islands controlled by South Korea in a demonstration aimed at belittling Japan’s claims to that territory.

The anniversary of Japan’s surrender in 1945 revives long-running territorial disputes in Asia as well as emotional memories of Japan’s brutal colonial occupation of many neighbors that ended only at the close of the war. While Japan routinely apologizes for its wartime actions, its politicians often anger neighboring countries by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial to Japan’s war dead, including top war criminals.

Dozens of Japanese lawmakers visited the shrine Wednesday, including two Cabinet ministers.

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