- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2004

TOKYO — The embers of a century-old territorial dispute burst into a war of words yesterday as Japanese police arrested seven Chinese activists who landed on a remote island held by Tokyo.

The Chinese said they wanted to draw attention to China’s claim to the island.

Japan’s government summoned China’s ambassador to lodge an official protest, saying the activists ignored a warning not to trespass. China protested the arrests, and flag-waving demonstrators gathered outside Japanese diplomatic offices in Beijing and Hong Kong.

Japan’s Kyodo news agency said 15 Japanese activists were planning to make a landing of their own on the island tomorrow.

The Chinese activists were arrested by Japanese police who flew by helicopter to Uotsuri island, part of an uninhabited chain in the East China Sea called the Senkaku islands in Japan and Diaoyutai in China. The chain is surrounded by fish-rich waters and claimed by Japan, China and Taiwan, but Japan has controlled the archipelago since defeating China in a war in 1895. China says its claims go back centuries.

The islands were administered by the United States when it occupied Japan after World War II, but were returned to Japanese jurisdiction in 1972.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said yesterday that the United States does not take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the disputed islands.

“We expect the claimants will resolve this issue through peaceful means, and we urge all claimants to exercise restraint,” he said.

The incident came as Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has been trying to mend fences with China about his annual visits to a war memorial that Asians say glorifies Japan’s militaristic past.

But Mr. Koizumi dismissed suggestions that relations between the neighbors would be strained by the incident.

“Authorities were acting strictly in accordance with the law,” he said. “Both sides need to deal with this as calmly as possible.”

Boatloads of activists from China and Taiwan have clashed in the past with Japanese vessels guarding the area, but the protest yesterday was the first to result in arrests.

A trawler reportedly carrying 16 activists from China’s Zhejiang province arrived off the disputed islands yesterday morning. Ignoring warnings from a Japanese coast guard cutter, the trawler lowered two smaller boats that landed on the island.

The seven activists were taken into custody about 10 hours later by Japanese police who touched down in four helicopters from the Japanese island of Okinawa, 300 miles away.

The Japanese government, in a formal protest conveyed to Chinese Ambassador Wu Dawei, said the protesters were trespassing and that there was “no doubt” about Tokyo’s claim to the islands.

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