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Beijing demands activists' release

By Li Xiaokun, Zhang Yunbi and Zhou Wa (China Daily)

08:42, August 16, 2012

Visit to war shrine by Japanese ministers angers Asian neighbors

Beijing urged Tokyo on Wednesday to immediately and unconditionally release 14 Chinese nationals held over a landing on islands belonging to China.

In a meeting with Japan's ambassador to Beijing and a phone call with a Japanese official, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Fu Ying "demanded that Japan ensure the safety of 14 Chinese nationals and immediately and unconditionally release them", the Foreign Ministry said on its website.

Fu also "made solemn representations on Japan’s unlawful detention of Chinese nationals on the Diaoyu Islands", the ministry website said.

Tension between Japan and its Asian neighbors rose sharply on Wednesday, the 67th anniversary of Japan’s World War II surrender, after Japanese ministers visited a shrine in Tokyo, against the advice of their prime minister, that honors war criminals.

As news broke on Wednesday of the arrests and the shrine visit, a group of swimmers from the Republic of Korea made it to the Dokdo Islands. The islands are called Takeshima in Japan and Tokyo disputes their sovereignty.

How Tokyo handles the detained activists will determine if the situation escalates, experts said.

It seems the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is trying to avoid triggering a more serious response from Beijing, they said.

Japan arrested the activists on suspicion of "illegal entry" after they landed on the Diaoyu Islands, according to Okinawa police.

Two activists, who also landed on the islands, returned to their fishing boat before they were arrested, the police said. Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV said the vessel is now under the control of the Japanese coastguard.

"Those arrested may be transferred to the Immigration Bureau of Japan later and sent back to Hong Kong by the Immigration Bureau," a spokesman from the coastguard told Xinhua.

Despite the detention, the Hong Kong-based Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands which arranged the trip, said "this is the most successful attempt in a decade" to reach the Diaoyu Islands.

Several of the 14 men on board the vessel, which departed from Hong Kong on Sunday, jumped into the sea and made it ashore at 5:30 pm local time. As soon as they reached land they sang the national anthem.

Waiting for them on the island were about 40 members of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. They took down national flags that the activists had planted firmly.
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