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Tokyo set to release detained activists

By Zhou Wa and Wang Chenyan (China Daily)

08:18, August 17, 2012

Cooling tension over islands is best option for Japan, experts say

Japan will return 14 activists who were illegally detained after landing on an island belonging to China, according to Chinese diplomats in Japan.

China on Thursday again urged Japan to immediately and unconditionally release the activists.

Cooling tensions over the Diaoyu Islands was the correct move for Tokyo, experts said, because Japan does not have the right to detain Chinese nationals on Chinese sovereign territory and acts of provocation will only harm Japan's interests.

All the 14 activists will be returned to Hong Kong no later than Friday, China Central Television quoted an unnamed Chinese diplomat as saying. The Japanese government has decided not to transfer the 14 Chinese activists to prosecutors, Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported. The activists landed on the islands on Wednesday after sailing from Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, during a phone call to his Japanese counterpart Kenichiro Sasae on Thursday, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhang Zhijun asked the Japanese authorities to ensure the personal safety, dignity and fundamental rights of the activists.

According to the Foreign Ministry, a working group from the Chinese embassy and consulates in Japan arrived in Naha, the capital of Okinawa, where the activists are being held.

They visited the activists and lodged representations with the Japanese.

Japan has behaved differently in similar cases involving the islands.

In 2004, the government of former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi returned activists directly back to China, thereby avoiding any escalation in tension.

However, in 2010, Japan proposed transferring a Chinese trawler captain to prosecutors after he was detained in waters near the Diaoyu Islands.

This triggered a sharp response from Beijing. Japan eventually released the captain.

"Tokyo has behaved rather moderately this time," said Zhou Yongsheng, an expert on Japanese studies at China Foreign Affairs University.

But it should be made clear "Japan is not entitled to arrest or repatriate Chinese nationals under the cover of its domestic law" as the Diaoyu Islands, and its waters, are an inherent part of Chinese territory, Zhou said.

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